“Blade Runner 2049”

Blade Runner 2049

THE PROLIFIC SCIENCE-fiction novelist Philip K. Dick, on whose short story the original Blade Runner was based, phrased the question of what it means to be human by asking, “Do androids dream of electric sheep?” In Dick’s novel, Rick Deckard hates his pet, an electric sheep, precisely because he knows that it, like the androids of the story, feels nothing for him no matter how much he cares for it. Of course Deckard, played by Harrison Ford in Ridley Scott’s 1982 adaptation, eventually learns that androids may, in fact, be capable of empathy, which prompts an extreme change in how he understands himself and a little soul-searching, if I can put it that way.

Blade Runner 2049 picks up, as they say, where its predecessor left off. In this world, in which thirty years has passed since the events of the original film, it’s Officer K (Ryan Gosling), an efficient new-model android hardwired for compliance, who is preoccupied not so much with his own humanity (or lack of it), but with existence itself. K works, like Deckard, as a blade runner, tasked with hunting down and “retiring”, in the language of the era, rogue older model replicants.

At the start of the film K travels to a secluded protein farm as part of an investigation into a growing replicant freedom movement, and finds there the hulking figure of Nexus-8 Sapper Morton (Dave Bautista) in addition to a buried box containing bones. It isn’t long after that “Constant” K, as his superiors at the LAPD call him on account of his reliability and unflappable bearing, starts to have doubts about the nature of the work, concluding that anything born must have a soul.


K’s home life, meanwhile, is unremarkable but for the constant presence of a holographic––but highly realistic––A.I. (Ana de Armas) that can change in a moment from doting housewife to lively intellectual. Her realness is jarring, and the spell is only broken, so to say, when rain lashes down on her projected image and causes it to flicker and disintegrate.


K’s home life, meanwhile, is unremarkable but for the constant presence of a holographic––but highly realistic––A.I. (Ana de Armas) that can change in a moment from doting housewife to lively intellectual. Her realness is jarring, and the spell is only broken, so to say, when rain lashes down on her projected image and causes it to flicker and disintegrate. Her very existence asks the question that is the drumbeat of the film: what does it mean to be “real”? All the while the streets of Los Angeles glow with giant hologram women with colourful lego haircuts and emptiness in their eyes, and long outdated brands such as Pan Am and Atari decorate shop fronts and windows.

Blade Runner 2049 is a meandering, slow-burning, thoughtful sort of film that’s similar to but also distinct from the original. The probing script, which is co-written by Alien: Covenant writer Michael Green and Hampton Fancher, who wrote the first film, assures a certain feeling of continuity, as does the lugubrious mise-en-scène: like Blade Runner, Blade Runner 2049 walks a line between film noir and dystopian sci-fi. It’s hard not to think for instance, as K roams the streets of this gloomy and wet Los Angeles, silhouetted in a long coat, of The Maltese Falcon; the scenes in which K meets Niander Wallace at the vast golden headquarters of the Wallace Corporation. meanwhile, owe a great deal to Boris Ingster’s Stranger on the Third Floor, which itself draws heavily on The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari.

Special praise is due for Roger Deakins, whose cinematography pitches Officer K in all his insignificance and inner turmoil against what seems like an endlessness of bright and cheerless neon and forbidding dark clouds. But Deakins’s closer shots are also stunning: his interpretation of K’s visit to the headquarters of the Wallace Corporation is a supreme example of fascinating and attractive cinematography. In one shot, in which K walks with Wallace’s henchwoman Luv (Sylvia Hoeks) through a room lined by glass boxes containing replicant bodies, Deakins captures the darkness behind them and the golden light ahead, with the caged replicants, dangling like puppets, of course marking the way.


Special praise is due for Roger Deakins, whose cinematography places K in all his smallness and inner turmoil against what seems like an endlessness of bright and cheerless neon and forbidding dark clouds. His depiction of K’s visit to the headquarters of the Wallace Corporation is a supreme example of fascinating and attractive cinematography.


With a running time of a hundred and eighty-five minutes the film is too long and slips, at times, into a self-indulgence that risks allowing the film to sail over the line separating profundity and pretentiousness. Blade Runner 2049 also lacks the thematic subtlety of the original, though in a dramatic and visual sense it surpasses it in. Gosling’s portrayal of Officer K is icy and inscrutable, and calls to mind his performance in Only God Forgives, while supporting performances from a grizzled Harrison Ford, who reprises his role in the original, and Robin Wright, who plays K’s stoic L.A.P.D. superior Lieutenant Joshi, are predictably captivating.

Any efforts to remake the films I love the most tend to make me nervous, and the 2017 version of Ghost in the Shell left me in need of a strong drink and possibly extensive counselling. But Denis Villeneuve, who is already one of the most exciting filmmakers working today, has managed with Blade Runner 2049 to create something that is loyal to its predecessor and yet ambitious, and profound in its own way. There are shortcomings to Blade Runner 2049, but it is quite clearly a worthy sequel, which, when you consider the impact of the original, is high praise.

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‘La La Land’

Review: 'La La Land'

I’M STILL HUMMING, as I drum away at my keyboard, the tune to La La Land’s second and, undoubtedly, best song, ‘Someone in a Crowd’, which arrives about fifteen minutes into Damien Chazelle’s charming and remarkable new film.

In the first scene, the motorists in a rush-hour traffic jam on a section of Los Angeles freeway leap from their cars and burst into a flamboyant, large-scale song-and-dance number filmed in a single shot. But La La Land isn’t, thankfully, all lively, large-scale musical numbers. Nor is it one of those films that contrives its plot to suit its songs. In the latter case, the two go hand in hand, or perhaps cheek to cheek, like the film’s shining leads, Emma Stone and Ryan Gosling, in a bittersweet tale of love and ambition in the City of Angels.

In that opening scene, sat behind the wheel of a Toyota Prius practicing her lines, is Mia (Emma Stone) an aspiring actress and playwright who works in a café on the Warner Bros. lot. In the shiny ’82 Buick behind her is Sebastian (Ryan Gosling), a jazz pianist who dreams of owning his own club. The cars they drive seem to reflect their personalities–Mia is practical and modern-minded; Sebastian is stubbornly traditional–but we find soon enough that what drives the both of them is a very old-fashioned dream for creative success in a ruthlessly commercial Hollywood.


The pair’s first aimless night-time stroll has the charmingly nostalgic feel of Gil Pender’s wanderings in Midnight in Paris and before that––and no doubt more fittingly–another film set in the city of love, An American in Paris.


The pair’s first aimless night-time stroll has the charmingly nostalgic feel of Gil Pender’s wanderings in Midnight in Paris and before that––and no doubt more fittingly––another film set in the city of love, An American in Paris. And like Gil Pender in Woody Allen’s 2011 film, Chavelle salutes a Golden Age: La La Land might be set in the modern day, but the feel of the film is decidedly old-school. Mia has a poster of Ingrid Bergman on her wall while Sebastian has a stool that belonged to Hoagy Carmichael, and, visually, La La Land alludes to Singing in’ the Rain and other classics of the Forties and Fifties.

But La La Land isn’t a sparkly fairy tale romance. In the second part of the film the mood darkens, (which is fitting, really, for a film made by the man who turned a small-scale, jazz-band drama into one of the darkest thrillers in the last half-decade). Like Whiplash, La La Land explores struggle of the artist, but while the tone in Whiplash is dark, the tone in La La Land is, for the most part at least, light and playful. If there is a central conflict in La La Land it is between love and artistic ambition, and what defines artistic success, and in this Chazelle asks more questions than gives answers.

If you’ve also seen Gosling and Stone act together in Crazy, Stupid Love or in the (admittedly underwhelming) Gangster Squad, you’ll be hard pressed to think of another screen couple with more chemistry or more charm, and their beautiful, if simply choreographed sequences, courtesy of Mandy Moore (no, not that one), are intimate enough as to make the viewer feel that they are in some way trespassing on a moment. Both Gosling and Stone, it’s needless to say at this point, are brilliant, moving seamlessly and naturally from song to dramatic scene and to song again, while R&B artist John Legend does a fine job as Sebastian’s friend, the commercialist musician Keith, who asks the necessary question of what exactly entails the artistic ‘selling out’ that Sebastian fears.


If you’ve also seen Gosling and Stone act together in Crazy, Stupid Love or in the (admittedly underwhelming) Gangster Squad, you’ll be hard pressed to think of another screen couple with more chemistry or more charm, and their beautiful, if simply choreographed sequences, are intimate enough as to make the viewer feel that they are in some way trespassing on a moment.


There’s a definite lull in the third quarter of La La Land that leaves you wishing for a return to the more upbeat numbers of the first act, and some of the songs have a tendency to slip into moodiness and melancholy. But Chazelle redeems himself in the last twenty minutes, which includes one of the most exquisitely conceived and perfectly executed film sequences of recent years.

La La Land is Chazelle’s love letter to Hollywood, to jazz and to the struggling artist. It’s at once a fantasy and a parable, bitter and sweet, impassioned and restrained. It isn’t the perfect film that some have impetuously declared it to be, but it is, nevertheless, utterly enchanting.

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