Blade Runner 2049 – Spoiler free review

Blade Runner 2049 review

Starring Ryan Gosling, Harrison Ford, Ana de Armas

Directed by Denis Villeneuve

Certificate 15

Photo: Columbia/Alcon/Scott Free

How do you follow one of the biggest cult films of all time? When tackling a sequel to Blade Runner, Ridley Scott’s 1982 masterpiece about an android detector hunting near perfect replicants, the answer was leave well alone. The story had been told. The box office returns had been hugely disappointing, but over the years it made its money back via re-releases and assorted cuts.

Then, around five years ago, the rights were up for grabs, and it looked like Ridley would direct. But while he was busy with Alien Covenant, Canadian director Denis Villeneuve (maker of stunning trio Prisoners, Sicario and Arrival) was wisely hired to tell the next chapter in the saga of Rick Deckard (Harrison Ford).

Photo: Columbia/Alcon/Scott Free

Ryan Gosling is superb as Officer K, a Blade Runner retiring (killing) more replicants while reporting to Robin Wright’s police chief Lieutenant Joshi. But it’s not long before he’s investigating a riddle wrapped in an enigma after an opening showdown with Dave Bautista’s formidable antagonist.

That’s the thing with this movie. It’s so full of spoilers that I daren’t reveal too much about anyone or anything for fear of giving the game away.

So as K embarks on his mission, blind replicant creator Wallace (Jared Leto) makes his moves like expert chess player Tyrell from film one (who he’s clearly modelled on).

Photo: Columbia/Alcon/Scott Free

The rest of the cast is excellent, from Ana de Armas and Sylvia Hoeks, to Mackenzie Davis, Carla Juri, Lennie James and Bautista. Nobody gives a bad performance and master lensman Roger Deakins creates some of the most beautiful images you’ll see this decade.

Photo: Columbia/Alcon/Scott Free

Unlike The Dark Tower, which shed a bright spotlight on its nods to Stephen King’s other work, references to the original Blade Runner and author Philip K Dick are far more subtle. A pot boiling on a stove might be just that, as could a wasp on a hand, or they could be integral references to Deckard’s interrogation of Rachael in the original.

The audio references are also a treat for obsessives like me. A familiar electronic hum here, a nostalgic whir there. And then there’s the soundtrack. Topping Vangelis’s masterful original score was futile, but Hans Zimmer and Benjamin Wallfisch’s booming chords and notes offer a flavour of its predecessor without them sounding like a tribute band.

Photo: Columbia/Alcon/Scott Free

There are at least two great cameos, one created with CGI which slips into the realms of uncanny valley.

There are times when the whole thing reminds me of Tron Legacy, another relatively recent sequel to a cult eighties classic. The difference here is a great story which twists and turns brilliantly. An obvious development early on becomes more complex as things develop. Thankfully I feel one step behind the storytellers instead of 10 steps ahead.

And the finale when it arrives after two and a half hours is near perfect. Or it would have been if the cinemaoger on our row hadn’t ruined the moment with his lit up phone. To be fair he had popped down to tell the staff to turn the lights off after five minutes of a semi-ruined intro, and the couple behind me who decided to talk through the next 10 minutes were polite enough to shut up for the rest of the movie once I asked them.

Photo: Columbia/Alcon/Scott Free

This won’t be for all tastes. The movie really takes its time, the polar opposite of popcorn tentpole movies which aim for the lowest common denominator. Those vistas are superb, with huge electronic billboards (including references to a French car company and the long defunct Pan Am).

Like the original, the mood is also spot on. It has a smoky, late night jazz feel which sets up proposed sequels without feeling contrived. The second act could have been tighter, but that ending, like the original, is a terrific, poetic closing chapter to a bigger story. I just hope I don’t have to wait another 35 years to see it.

8/10

My vlog review

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Alien Covenant review

Alien Covenant review

Starring Michael Fassbender, Katherine Waterston, Danny McBride

Directed by Ridley Scott

Certificate 15

There was a time I would have been at the midnight premiere of a new Alien movie, I was so obsessed with the series. But in 2012 I sat through the inaugural IMAX 3-D screening of Prometheus, and still felt sick by the time I got to bed around 4AM.

During subsequent screenings, I realised what a weak film it was; an A-list cast and crew dealing with a Z-list script. Those hoping for answers to the xenomorphs’ origins were given more questions than answers.

So by the time Alien Covenant, the second prequel in Ridley Scott’s franchise came along, I gave it a week before watching.

The reviews have not been good. Savaged by most critics, and berated by many fans of the saga, I go in with low expectations.

Surprisingly, the first half hour is not that bad. The crew of the eponymous spacecraft, a colonisation ship on its way to land on an Earth-type planet seven years away, are awoken after a near-fatal incident with some galactic anomaly, and while repairing the ship, an electronic ghost from a nearby planet is recorded onto one of the crew’s helmets.

So it’s essentially a remake of Alien up to this point, only the crew are awoken for a different reason, and they intercept a different sort of SOS.

Landing on the neighbouring world in the hope it might be a better alternative to their original destination, they soon live to regret it.

Only Daniels (Katherine Waterston) seems to have a degree of intelligence. She wonders why they are endangering their mission by checking out a world that didn’t show up on any of their scans.

Their rubbish captain Oram (Billy Crudup) overrules her, launches an away team, and thanks to savage spores, soon ensures one of the crew is literally as spineless as him.

The second act plays like an old episode of a Star Trek: The Next Generation in which Data met evil brother Lore. In this case, robot Walter meets fellow synthetic David (survivor of Prometheus).

There’s a recorder lesson between the “brothers” that goes on so long, I had flashbacks to junior school music lessons.

Most of the time it looks great. This is a Ridley Scott film, so that’s a given, though some of the alien CG effects are a bit ropey.

Sadly the saga has become so obsessed with analysing its own history both on and off screen, we have reached the point where there are two robots named after the producers (David Giler and Walter Hill), and a heroine called Daniels, probably named after the original writer (Dan O’Bannon).

But the meta problem is not the biggest issue. It’s the intelligence, or the crew’s lack of it.

This is a crew so stupid, there’s no question of quarantine at a crucial moment or immediately wondering why wheat is on an alien planet.

There’s also a point where a couple are attacked in a shower. Not a spoiler, as that’s given away in the trailer.

And if you seen the trailer, chances are you’ve seen about as much as you need to regarding their back story, or lack of it.

The dipping toy bird, making a welcome return to the franchise for the first time since 1979’s original Alien, has more of a back story.

Thankfully the finale is as dark as Life, the year’s better alien-on-a-spaceship movie. Some clever editing and a Prestige-style plot device means there’s an ’is he or isn’t he?’ moment that keeps you guessing until the end.

Alien Covenant is not the disaster I’d feared. It’s slightly better than Prometheus, but a very poor cousin to Alien and Aliens. Newcomers to the saga may enjoy it, and given the finale I’m intrigued to see how things connect between the prequels and Alien. Let’s just hope a smarter script is green-lit for (the chronological) episode three.

6/10

My video review Alien Covenant

The Martian – The movie review

Thankfully The Martian is Ridley Scott’s best film in a decade. It’s not a perfect adaptation of Andy Weir’s compelling page turner, but it comes pretty close. Matt Damon is a fine fit as Mark Watney, the botanist engineer stranded on Mars when he’s assumed dead by his crew. 

Jessica Chastain is excellent as the captain of said mission, and the rest of the casting is pretty excellent too. (Sean Bean has a terrific Lord of The Rings in-joke during a NASA meeting). 

Though fans of the novel will probably moan about the speed with which problems are solved and certain key elements are jettisoned, the essence of the book remains: one man’s attempt to stay alive with a mix of smarts, humour and resourcefulness. 

  

Though I was mentally yelling “Slow down,” at certain points, this mix of Apollo 13 and Gravity is bound to be an instant crowd pleaser thanks to that terrific third act. 

A shame the final five minutes are tagged on. The book has a lean, snappy finale, but Scott’s movie (perhaps intentionally) ends like some TV series. ‘You have been watching…’ kind of thing.  

The effects and score are all great, and while not perfect, it’s light years ahead of Scott’s previous let downs Prometheus and risible The Counsellor. 

Welcome home Ridley. You’ve spent too long in the blockbuster wilderness. Nice to see you back where you belong. 

Now get the Alien saga back on track. Please. 

Exodus: Gods and Kings

Ridley Scott, in my opinion, had not made a great film in years, so I didn’t hold out much hope for his latest, the biblical saga Exodus: Gods and Kings.
However, like 2014’s Noah, this huge, visionary epic holds together well and is worth a look on the big screen.
Christian Bale is on good form as Moses, while Joel Edgerton channels Marlon Brando as Ramesses, his ‘brother’ who exiles Moses upon realising he’s a Hebrew.

Scott is at his best when it comes to world building, and as with his other stunning offerings Gladiator and Kingdom of Heaven, he and his army of set designers, builders, plasterers and other construction crew do wonders depicting this ancient world.

Of course, dealing with a subject as sensitive as religion is never easy for any film maker, and Scott does a fine job of tackling the God complex by depicting the Almighty as a young lad while Moses’ visions are possibly the result of being hit on the head by a rock.

Continue reading “Exodus: Gods and Kings”