Tag Archives: Denis Villeneuve

PRISONERS (2013)

“If goodness is order, evil must be disorder, the straight path or the maze…” – Eugene Ionesco

In 2013, when the oh so talented French-Canadian film director, Denis Villeneuve (Sicario, Arrival, etc) paired with the triple BAFTA and long awaited Oscar winning cinematographer, Roger Deakins (EVERYTHING) for Prisoners, a cinematic masterpiece was born. I can only imagine how Aaron Guzikowski (Contraband, Papillon) must’ve felt knowing his script had fallen into the hands of greatness. And can we talk about that hypnotic score by none other than the late, great Jóhann Jóhannsson (Sicario, Mandy) that’s been playing on a loop as I write this??

I, for one, am a BIG fan of movie violence and Prisoners doesn’t shy away from delivering a heavy dose of it. However, with its consistent tone, it is only violent when it needs to be and delivers it with realism. The outbursts of rage burgeon from Keller Dover (Hugh Jackman) as he finds himself lost within his own mental labyrinth between morality and retribution. A man who will stop at nothing to find answers about his missing daughter, even if it means ruthlessly torturing Alex Jones (Paul Dano), a suspect released due to the fact that he has the IQ of a 10 year old boy and yet seemingly still knows pertinent information about the case.

They didn’t cry until I left them” – Alex Jones

Franklin Birch (Terrence Howard) personifies what’s at stake for Keller in relation to his deeper conscience. As Franklin remains true to his wife and stands by his family, we see Keller start to lose grip with reality, drifting further away from his family through drinking and becoming more focused on his new….um….extracurricular activity.

No light gets in, barely enough
room to sit down inside.
The shower still works, but we
control it from out here. I
rigged the water heater, so it
either comes out scalding or
freezing.
– Keller Dover

And then let’s talk about Detective Loki (Jake Gyllenhaal). One of Gyllenhaal’s best performances, in my opinion...but what’s with that blue shirt buttoned all the way up throughout the whole movie??

His daunting angst is made visually apparent by a nervous tick and cold exterior especially when given the case of the two missing girls. His steadfast level of professionalism is tested when dealing with the grief-stricken, emotionally deranged Keller. Loki seems to internalize everything, which makes his few emotional outbursts all the more unsettling. His obsession with this particular case makes him briefly question his own sanity but he eventually succeeds at piecing together this tumultuous puzzle.

In closing, I give this film a ten out of ten and if you haven’t seen it yet then I highly recommend you set aside two and half hours of your life to do so. I absolutely adore these types of hard boiled movies and greatly appreciate this type of material. Why not create more films at this caliber instead of the onslaught of sequels, trilogies, and remakes upon remakes?? If I see another Disney cartoon made into a live action movie my nightly bloodlust will overflow into my days. I’ll feel lethal, on the verge of frenzy. I think my mask of sanity is about to slip….

From the incredible cinematography, to the masterful direction and captivating performances, Prisoners will forever be one of my top film picks.

Denis Villeneuve’s Prisoners

Dark. Rainy. Uneasy. Covered in a cloak of gloom, gruesome secrets and morally questionable actions. Denis Villeneuve’s Prisoners is one of the premier kidnapping thrillers of recent years, and a mile marker in the still blossoming career of a man who will no doubt go on to be a legend. Many thrillers are lacking in some elements while excel in others, but here every base is covered with care and attention, from style to substance to pacing to realism to thematic material. When a couple’s daughter goes missing without a trace on a quiet suburban block, the distraught father (Hugh Jackman) tries to take matters into his own hands with disastrous and damaging results. When you factor in how long the case drags without clues, results or hope it’s kind of hard to blame him for taking action of his own volition, but when he abducts a mentally challenged man (Paul Dano) who was seen skulking around in a creepy RV the day of the incident, he crosses the line from righteous investigator to dangerous vigilante. Jake Gyllenhaal and his snazzy hairstyle are great as a rugged detective who just can’t seem to get a grasp on what happened but doesn’t quit anyway. Terrence Howard, Maria Bello, Wayne Duvall, Viola Davis, Dylan Minette and more make vivid impressions, but it’s the consistently surprising and always dynamic Melissa Leo who steals the show and galvanizes the story with her chilling work. Roger Deakins is a prince among DoP’s and his rain streaked, utterly bleak visual mood-scape here is something to behold, the overcast weather seeps into the bones of these characters and brings out all the confusion and hopelessness of this grim, downbeat story. This is a detailed, difficult tale that does have an answer by the time the final act rolls around, and by that time we’re so so steeped in the quagmires of Jackman’s extreme actions that the further the trip goes into unpleasantness, the more eerily fitting it seems. It’s a dark, relentless trip but thanks to everyone involved and especially Villeneuve’s assured direction, it’s one worth taking.

-Nate Hill

Denis Villeneuve’s Arrival

Every few years, if we’re lucky, we get a science fiction movie as good as Denis Villeneuve’s Arrival, a cosmic miracle of a film. Built around the ages old trope of aliens invading earth, and even throwing shout outs to sci fi flicks of yore (Robert Zemeckis’s Contact, Roland Emmerich’s Independence Day to name a few), it ultimately is completely it’s own thing and there has never been anything quite like it ever before in the genre, or in Big Hollywood. Villeneuve, whether working in crime, thriller or mind-fuck territory, has always proudly broke the mold and blasted new crevices into seemingly charted out tonal territory. It’s only fitting that a SciFi outing from him is something remarkable, and he terraforms the genre to incredible thematic plateaus here. Amy Adams is reliably terrific as a linguistics guru brought in by the government to try and communicate with a mysterious race of extraterrestrials, shadowy beings who have illegally parked their mammoth, monolithic ships systematically all over the globe. What do they want? Why are they her? Tensions rise when the military (Forest Whitaker gives the obligatory general role his trademark brand of implosive compassion) and the CIA (Michael Stuhlburg does paranoia to a turn) butt heads over what to do, while a snarky mathematician (Jeremy Renner, excellent) has his own ideas. Adams develops an inspired way of both understanding these beings via their unique brand of written language and imparting to them our English words, or at least a variation. The scenes inside their ship are so haunting and atmospheric we get the sense this is real footage we’re sneaking a peek at, and the government may bust in and raid our TV room any moment. The beings themselves are a visually intriguing bunch, like dreamy space elephant/whale/spiders who evoke a strange, genuinely alien aura. But time is running out, and if Adams can’t make both their language and intentions clear, the big guns of fear and ignorance threaten to come out and play. The film has an important, uplifting message that communication should always supersede violence, a hard truth but a necessary one. My favourite aspect of this film is its elliptical final act, and anyone who has already seen it knows what I’m talking about. Much of the film, although artistic, is straightforward, but Villeneuve really plumbs the fathoms of human consciousness and pulls forth ideas that not only are rarely explored this maturely onscreen, are also very difficult to understand in linear, analytical fashion. It’s this drive to push his audience, to dole out just as much brain and soul candy as eye candy into our cinematic trick or treat bags that’s the reason he’s such an important, landmark filmmaker, and it’s a joy to see such films take centre stage at the multiplex. With key supporting work from the great Tzi Ma and a ghostly original score by the late maestro Johan Johansson that eerily inhabits the film like an alien force all its own, every individual and element involved combine to give this film something special and rare: a genuine sense of wonder.

-Nate Hill

One of the Nicest Dudes: An Interview with Daniel Roebuck by Kent Hill

DR

Daniel Roebuck made me cry. That’s tough to do. There are certain films that have achieved this but they are few and far between. With Getting Grace, Roebuck has constructed a tale that is about that good thing, maybe the best of things. He has made a film about hope.

The story is that of a girl dying. Some might argue that such a plot easily accommodates the tear-jerking factor, but I don’t think that’s true. Field of Dreams is a movie that gets me every time, but I wouldn’t say that it sets itself up as a tear-jerker. In that movie’s case, the plot is more about listening to the voices inside us all and not allowing the inherent cynical nature of humanity to sidetrack us. It is also a story of redemption in the respect that a ghost, a former baseball player, helps the protagonist make peace with his father via love a of the game they both once shared.

In the case of Getting Grace, much like Disney’s Polyanna prior, it falls to a quirky yet luminous spirit of a young girl, staring at the end of her mortality and the optimism she evokes to cope with her fate to inspire, and in many ways redeem the broken characters that encircle her throughout the story. Both films deal with death, but reinforce that death is far from the end.

It’s a heart-warming tale that leaves you thinking about the preciousness and the fragility of our existence for a man of great faith. After all, to have endured in show business for the length of time Daniel Roebuck has – you need faith and hope in bundles.

It was an illuminating and thought-provoking discussion that I had with Daniel. He is a stalwart of the industry having worked in everything from big movies to indies, action films to animated efforts, and even mentoring other young actors as they struggle to make their ascent. Through it all he has retained a charming, positive presence that reflects in the enthusiasm with which he attacks his roles and now as he steps behind the camera to tell stories that enrich and enlighten.

It was as much a pleasure to talk with him as it is for me to present one of the nicest dudes . . . Daniel Roebuck.

 

Into the OTHERWORLD : An Interview with RICHARD STANLEY by Kent Hill

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It’s always a fascinating experience to sit down with Richard. The man is such a natural storyteller, with a unique perspective relating not only to cinema, but also to the world around him.

We caught up this time in the midst of bad weather, a troubled connection and, last but not least, a turbulent time in Richard’s beloved Montsegur. While our conversation touched upon this, along with the whys and wherefores of the situation, we eventually turned to movies. At this time it had been documented that Richard was again a part of an attempt to bring Moreau back to the screen – as a TV series. Having been hired by the same people that fired him during the doomed journey of his initial attempt, there seems to be, thanks to David Gregory’s documentary, a renewed interest in Richard’s take on his long-suffering passion project.

I did also bring up The Otherworld, which I had finally seen at the time. Stanley’s absorbing documentary-slash-ghost-story, and the myths and misconceptions surrounding it and ‘The Zone’ which forms the backdrop. Richard is steeped in the history of Montsegur and, flavored with his supernatural encounters, it is indeed a tale of great intrigue.

Also to we touched on, and I must say I highly anticipate, the writing of Richard’s autobiography. A project that was going smoothly until it was insisted, and initially resisted by its author, that a chapter be included on the subject of the collapse of Richard’s vision of Moreau. As thrilling a read as it will be – like I said Richard is a fascinating character – it will be equally riveting to finally have a recounting of the story from the embattled man at the center of the controversy.

Still, the future is full of possibilities, and I for one wait with inordinate eagerness for any and all of Richard’s creative endeavors to finally emerge . . . in whatever form they shall take.

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Best of 2017 Megacast!

BeFunky Collage

Frank, Tim, and Nate gather together to discuss this year’s Oscar nominations and then get into what they thought should have been nominated, running down their own top ten best pictures, and also giving their top five in each category. We will taking a week off and then we’ll be back with a vengeance with our annual Santa Barbara International Film Festival podcast!

The BLADE RUNNER 2049 Mega Podcast

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The crew has been assembled: Frank, Nate, Kyle, Ben, and Patrick talk in length about BLADE RUNNER 2049. Is Rick Deckard a human or a replicant? What is the film saying? How amazing is Roger Deakins? Well, that answer is obvious. We hope you all enjoy!

The Boring and the Beautiful…

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I was late to the movie. I hate that. Not a parking space in sight and having to walk a bloody mile on a hot and humid day.

The cool interior of the cinema gave me comfort and, hoping the number of trailers and commercials they usually play these days was at its regular maximum and still going on as I purchased my ticket for Blade Runner 2049 – I was hopeful. But no, I missed a bit of the start.

But what struck me right off the bat as I took my seat and wiped the sweat from my brow, was the tail end of something I had seen before – something that had at one time been intended for the first Blade Runner but never used. It was a part of the most excellent Dangerous Days documentary which was included with the release of The Final Cut some years ago. It was a scene meant to open the Scott masterwork. “Soup boiling in a pot,” Hampton Fancher had said.

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But I missed most of it, so I can’t really be sure. But the tail end I saw looked spookily reminiscent of those unused storyboards for that unused opening.

I have stated before that I am forever wary of a film that is, for the most part, praised to the heavens for its cinematography. Deakins should have taken home a statue long before now, but I’d say that it is a safe bet he’ll have one in his swag this time when awards season rolls ‘round.

Yes 2049 is stunning to look at. But what else is there? There’s the rub.

No one ever mentions Pinocchio when they talk about Blade Runner. It is a theme I believe that lies somewhere near the heart of it. The search for reality, for what makes us real, feel real, think real, act real. The first film was about the search for what defines us as human. This second seems preoccupied with the acceptance of what is, coupled with the desire to be more, or all you can be.

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It is a dusty, hazy, wet, baron, bleak world Villeneuve conjures. And don’t misunderstand, I like long movies. The last of this ilk I really enjoyed was the often dismissed The Assassination of Jesse James by the coward Robert Ford, ironically also photographed by Deakins.

The smooth and languid pace is belied by the thumping, buzzing and humming of Wallfisch and Zimmer. In some parts it could be a Tibetan monastery and in others the inside of a sawmill. This doesn’t dance over the top of the story of Lars and the Virtual Girl as nicely as I think Vangelis would have played. And the mystery of the bones was interesting if not as, I thought, compelling as the complicated splendour of the story of a boy and his hologram, Joi and Joe. Hey, Robin Wright is in another movie, thanks Wonder Woman.

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Jared Leto is visually impaired and kind of sadistic, also throwaway, but his robo-chick assistant is better. She is sinister in a quiet, cool way, and she can be devastating while getting her nails done.

Eddie Olmos makes a sheep.

Look I know this is blunt and cynical. I fell asleep a couple of times watching this. I can’t drink the pretentious Kool-Aid, I’m sorry. There were parts that genuinely had me. The idea that, and I may be totally wrong here, Dr. Ana Stelline, The Memory Maker, used K’s memories to help her find Dad Ford, I like that. But I may be wrong about it. But consider the end of Scott’s film. Deckard sees unicorns, Gaff leaves him a unicorn. K’s dying in the snow, inside Stelline is conjuring snow?

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The thing is this. Time made Blade Runner the masterpiece it is. It was not venerated when it first came out. Sure there were the makings of those who would grow up and tell the rest of the fan base, “See, told you so!”

Will that happen with 2049? Truth is I’ve seen things you people wouldn’t believe . . . sorry, had to do it. But seriously – this scenario I remember seeing before. It was in Hiroyuki Ochi’s 1995 Armitage III: Poly-Matrix (English language version featuring the voices of Kiefer “Lost Boy” Sutherland & Elizabeth “Showgirl” Berkley). Check it out and I challenge you not to find the comparisons.

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2049 though, yes, I will watch it again. It is the kind of film you should not be tired while watching. After all I want to see that opening in full; even though I get the feeling it will not have that beautiful simplicity of those unused now recycled storyboards. I hope there is a good extras package with the release. I don’t hold out hope for something as elegant and all-encompassing as Dangerous Days, after all, it took 20 years for that to form out of what was, became and eventuated out of the original Blade Runner.

A couple of my learned colleagues in this film writing game have made such pronouncements as, and I’m paraphrasing: “this is the cinematic event of the century,” and “at least they tried this time, that should be respected.” Yes they (The Movie Gods) did try, they gave it a bloody good go at trying to bring forth a sequel to stand next to, if not shoulder to shoulder, with an iconic piece of filmmaking and yes, it should certainly be respected. But did they ultimately succeed?

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The cinematic event of the century – well – for me the century isn’t over and I probably won’t be around when it is so I’m going to jump in with a Castaway reference here and say: “Who knows what the tide will bring.”

Time has prepared them. That was a line, a comment, from the Dangerous Days documentary that was ringing in my head when I came out of the theatre to begin the long sweaty trek back to my car. Time has prepared them. It was in reference to what we witnessed all those years ago when another film with Blade Runner in the title was new in theatres. It took time, the ultimate critic some say, to forge that film and see it take its place in the pantheon of great cinema.

Perhaps another look at another time might alter my thinking, but, for right now this is where I’m at.

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I wanted a Batty monologue as K passed away. I wanted David Peoples to pick up the pen and maybe have Gosling add his bit to it as that familiar music played.

There is a version of Batty’s final words that I recalled on my way back to the car.

“with sweat in my eyes watching the stars fight on the shoulder of Orion. I’ve felt the wind in my hair, riding test boats off the black galaxies and seen an attack fleet burn like a match and disappear. I’ve seen it . . . felt it!”

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Maybe today I saw it, but I just wasn’t feeling it?

Will Blade Runner 2049 be lost in time, like tears in rain?

Perhaps time will prepare me?

 

Still, as ever, happy viewing…

The Dude in the Audience.

bhbh

 

Denis Villeneuve’s Blade Runner 2049: Thoughts from Nate Hill


As I settled in to watch Denis Villeneuve’s Blade Runner: 2049 in a thundering imax theatre, I truly did not know what to expect. I’d successfully avoided spoilers up until that point, done a scant bit of reading hither and thither on a surface level, and obviously been privy to the mind boggling, overwhelmingly positive buzz that’s been flowing forth since the first critics were screened. ‘Masterpiece’, ‘Movie even of the century’ and ‘instant classic’ were some of the lofty adulations that were being hurled around right out of the gate, and it’s not often a sequel to such a long worshipped, culturally influential bombshell of a science fiction film has been welcomed so eagerly and almost unanimously praised. There’s been a gulf of time between Ridley Scott’s 1982 neon fever dream, which is indeed a masterpiece and one of my favourite films of all time, and the shoes to fill have never, ever been bigger. So, does it live up to the original? Is it better? Worse? Pandering fan service or bold pioneer trek into new galaxies of thematic and tonal exploration? The answers to those questions are somewhat more complicated than yes, no or similar succinct absolutes. I can say, however, that Villeneuve’s near three hour machine-dream is one of the most beautiful, ambitious, thoughtful, well wrought films I’ve ever seen, a staggering achievement in all arenas and indeed a piece of cinema they’ll be talking about for years to come. It’s a masterpiece on its own terms, blending elements of the original which we all loved, but bravely surging forward into it’s own brand new chapter of this world, a little bleaker and more austere than the poetic lullabies of Scott’s L.A., yet no less wondrous or sumptuous a creation. This is a world where quite a bit of time has passed since the initial story, and the environment these characters dwell in has shifted along with it. Los Angeles is wearier, emptier and less of a gong show than we remember, yet the buzzing life that we recall catching fleeting glimpses of between monolithic, impossibly gigantic skyscrapers is still there, that endless nocturnal hum has thrived through into a new age. So too have replicants, now far more advanced, under the label and stewardship of Niander Wallace (Jared Leto) and his mega corporation. Ryan Gosling plays a young blade Runner, a profession, it seems, that has not run out of supply in demand. Under the very stern watch of LAPD Captain Joshi (Robin Wright, terrific) he navigates a meticulously paced detective story that, yes, eventually leads him to missing former Blade Runner Rick Deckerd, played by Harrison Ford in one staggeringly well pitched performance. That’s all I’ll really be specific about in terms of plot, because it’s a gorgeously wrapped present that should be opened corner by corner, inch by inch until the viewer has actively and emotionally seen the big picture, a thoughtful process that challenges the audience and should be the standard not just for science fiction, but for big budget films in general. While Blade Runner 1982 was a visual and musical feast for the senses and still maintains that edge over it’s sequel, 2049 has a cerebral and multifaceted patchwork quilt of themes, questions and notions that play across the screen like a ballet of auroral, magnificent wonders, layered, ponderous cinema with an emotional weight and resonance that took me right off guard, a quality that although present in 1982, wasn’t quite as developed as what we get here. Hans Zimmer’s score is every bit the thundering piece you’d expect and is brilliant, a slightly industrialized departure from the lyrical, ethereal tones of Vangelis, but equally as captivating. I could go on, but I’ll let you see the thing for yourself and paint your own picture. I’ll say this: Blade Runner 1982 is the rainbow coloured light shone through a prism, abstract, illusory and trancelike. 2049 is the prism itself, the source of the light and the place where it’s understood from a more conscious, waking-life perspective, and that’s the closest I can get to explaining just how different these films are from each other. One is a dream poem, the other is a deep methodical meditation, but both are vital halves of the mythology. However you look at it, Villeneuve’s 2049 is astounding, achingly beautiful work on every level, not to mention the work of everyone’s favourite unsung maestro, cinematographer Roger Deakins. This is an important film, as it may just hasten the exodus of brainless big budget fluff and help Hollywood enter a golden age of well crafted, intelligent blockbuster films once again. One can dream.

-Nate Hill

“You’ve never seen a miracle.” A spoiler free review of Blade Runner 2049 – by Josh Hains 

I can understand why there are some people out there who don’t like this movie. In 1982 Blade Runner wasn’t made for the masses. It was an expensive arthouse sci-fi neo-noir detective story that critics loathed and most couldn’t make heads or tails of. Only over time and through multiple cuts did the movie gain the legendary cult status it carries today. Blade Runner 2049 feels cut from the same cloth. It’s not for everyone, there are those who have seen it and don’t like it, and there will be others who join them over time. Like its predecessor, it’s not an easily accessible movie that everyone can sink their teeth into and enjoy. It’s less easily categorized by younger overtly politically correct audiences that brand everything in sight with unnecessary dehumanizing labels, and given the reputation of its predecessor, it doesn’t much matter who loves or hates it. This movie is for Blade Runner fans, made by a man who calls Blade Runner his favourite movie, likely to grow into a legendary cult status just like Blade Runner before it. It’s better this way.

Blade Runner 2049 follows K (Ryan Gosling), a Blade Runner for the LAPD. It’s his job to track down Nexus 8 replicants and retire them, and he’s quite good at it. He uncovers information that could spark a war between replicants and humans, and sets out to find the long missing, rumored dead Rick Deckard (Harrison Ford), the legendary Blade Runner from the original film. That’s as far as I’ll get into plot details, it’s obviously better to know little about the actual plot of this movie, despite the plot being pretty easy to piece together. Anyone familiar with film noir ought to know by now that the plot of a noir is never the focus. In noir, plot is a McGuffin, something we the audience chase, much like Sam Spade trying to find the Maltese Falcon, and while the pieces usually fit together rather nicely by films end (unless we’re talking about Night Moves, the 1975 Gene Hackman starring noir detective yarn), the plot is never why you watch a noir, such is the case here.

For the last few years it has said a lot to me when I can count the number of problems I have with a movie on just one hand. In the case of Blade Runner 2049, there were two performances that felt culled from a totally different, and weird, movie. But I chose to overlook those while I was watching the movie, because one performance occupied just one scene, while the other only took up three long scenes (it might have been four, but I could be wrong). Nothing else sticks out in my mind.

Roger Deakins has outdone nearly his entire filmography of gorgeous, spellbinding cinematography, save for The Assassination of Jesse James By The Coward Robert Ford, which still might be his finest work to date. With the exception of the two performers who will go unnamed, the rest of the cast provided their best performances to date, especially Gosling, Ford, Ana de Armas, and Dave Bautista. And Denis Villeneuve, working from a great script by original Blade Runner screenwriter Hampton Fancher, and Michael Green (watch American Gods, the Starz series he collaborated on with Bryan Fuller and author Neil Gaiman), and with original director Ridley Scott producing, has crafted a worthy sequel to Blade Runner that captures everything I love about the original yet also feels new, fresh, and exciting.

I don’t know if there’s a such thing as a perfect movie. Maybe there is, and if that’s the case then I’ve seen quite a few. Lawrence Of Arabia, The Godfather Part II, Jaws, and L.A. Confidential, to name a few. And if there’s no such thing as a perfect movie, and if that should be the case then I’ve seen ample imperfect movies that somehow seem perfect amidst whatever flaws others have found in them. I could complain about the first roughly two hours of 2049 feeling like one drawn out (but so damn good) tease leading up to everything I really wanted to see (which takes place in the third act of the film), but I enjoyed all of it so much, so why bother?

When the year started and I had the first teaser trailer for Blade Runner 2049 to watch on a loop, I hoped it would live up to my own expectations. I wasn’t hoping for a movie that would blow my mind six ways to Sunday and change my life somehow. I wasn’t hoping for some easily categorizable, digestible, flawless masterpiece. All I wanted and hoped for was a sequel that would feel like the natural progression of the story I love so much in Blade Runner, that would look born from the same universe yet unique to itself, and would make me feel the way I do when I watch Blade Runner: The Final Cut: awestruck, mesmerized, subtly moved. What I watched Sunday night did exactly that for nearly three hours, and won’t soon be lost in time, like tears in rain.