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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

 

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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.

Rob Reiner’s The Princess Bride


Rob Reiner’s The Princess Bride is so beloved and intrinsically bedded into our collective cinematic psyche that it’s almost less of a film these days than it is a lifestyle or cultural flourish, something that comes up in conversations as a given, an immediately relatable phenomenon in any dinner table banter or house party scenario. It also happens to be a great film in itself, full of instantly iconic idiosyncrasies and sincere storytelling that harkens back to the days of Grimm’s brothers and such. Populated by a pithily eclectic cast, and more than a few cameos, it’s a film one can watch as a kid all starry eyed at the fairytale intrigue, then revisit again as an adult and treat oneself to the raunchy bits we missed as youngsters. We all know the story so I won’t rehash it except to say that it’s the classic storybook fantasy given a decidedly more modern twist, especially with the dialogue. I’ll also add that it’s one of the few Hollywood fairytales to retain the grim, often perversely violent and scary elements that fables of olden times were known for. That water torture thingy (how does that work anyways?) used to scare the shit out of me as a kid, and who could forget the gruesome rodents of unusual size? Cary Elwes and Robin Wright light up the screen as Princess Buttercup and Wesley (he’s a lot more fun as the Dread Pirate Zorro Roberts though, isn’t he), on the run from evil Prince Humperdinck (lol) played by a preening Chris Sarandon, and his nefarious six fingered henchman (Christopher Guest) who slew the father of ruthless Spaniard Inigo Montoya (Mandy Patinkin), as we’re reminded sixty million times throughout. Damn, I said I wasn’t going to go all into plot, didn’t I? There’s just such a delicious host of characters running about the place, it’s hard not too. Andre The Giant scores as, well, a giant of course, Wallace Shawn is a scheming little shit who gets his comeuppance (inconceivable!!), Billy Chrystal shows up as a sort of goblin, looking like a walnut with cotton candy taped to it, and all this hooplah is read to a youngster (Fred Savage) home sick from school by a snarky Peter Falk, a la Neverending Story. It takes a special kind of film to earn endless revisits from us, the viewer, and be ushered into the exclusive classics club. This one should be used as example of how to flawlessly achieve those things though, via an engaging, smartly written story with actual tangible stakes, just the perfect amounts of humour and silliness, some darker aspects to pluck away at the morbidness in all of us, and of course a romance right at it’s core. Timeless. 

-Nate Hill

Patty Jenkins’ WONDER WOMAN

WONDER WOMAN is a rather terrific film. Yes, it follows the template of an origin story, and it is somewhat uninspired at times following that formula (first reel death, sacrificial death at the end of the film, “surprise” villain), but regardless of the generic template used, the film and its star propel forward creating a very engaging, entertaining, and invigorating film.

The constant comparisons to CAPTAIN AMERICA: FIRST AVENGER does have some slight merit, but it is a rather lazy comparison. Sure, both films revolve around a set piece pertaining to each World War, and sure it’s a ragtag crew of soldiers that support the hero in their take-down to essentially end the war; yet there is so much that separates the two.

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The craftsmanship of WONDER WOMAN stands superior.

The cast of this film may be one of the best ensembles constructed for a comic book movie. Supporting Gal Gadot is Chris Pine (in probably his best performance to date), Connie Nielsen, Danny Huston, Ewan Bremner, Said Taghmaoui, David Thewlis, and a scene-stealing Robin Wright. All of these characters, regardless of screen time and/or limited development are giving a substantial amount to do and say, and casting each specific actor to their respective role immediately creates authenticity for that character.

Hans Zimmer’s theme for Wonder Woman, which made its debut in BvS, is perhaps the best piece of music that he has ever composed. When it cues itself up to Gadot kicking German ass in the film, it creates even more excitement for the viewer. The action pieces in this film are incredible.

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Everyone deserves full credit for this picture. Gal Gadot completely owns the role while simultaneously propelling herself to a bonafide movie star. Director Patty Jenkins has become a rising star within Warner Brothers, and Zack Snyder deserves his due credit for discovering Gadot and creating the aesthetic that WW cultivates.

WONDER WOMAN didn’t save the DCEU, it was doing just fine before this film, but it certainly stopped a lot of the negative press. Though those who constantly fill their social media feeds with unapologetic bias and echo chamber nonsense will remain undisturbed. This film may not completely warrant the abundance of overwhelming and over the top accolades, it is a very fine picture, and don’t be surprised if this film has legs going into awards season.

Phil Joanou’s State Of Grace


Phil Joanou’s State Of Grace had the unfortunate luck of being released in 1990, the same year that also saw Scorsese’s Goodfellas and the third Godfather film. It’s hard to gain your footing when that kind of momentum is surging about, but this film is as good as the others, and deserves recognition or at least some kind of re-release. Set in the blistering inferno of Hell’s Kitchen, NYC, it’s a violent tale of Irish Mobsters, undercover cops, betrayal and murder, set to a smoky, mournful Ennio Morricone score that lingers in the air like smog. Sean Penn is Terry Noonan, a deep cover operative who returns to his childhood neighbourhood to reconnect with old friends, and dig up buried grudges. Ed Harris is Frankie Flannery, ruthless gangster and former ally, while Gary Oldman plays his hotheaded brother Jackie with a tank full of nitrous and the kind of unpredictable, dynamite fuse

potency one expects to see from a David Lynch character. The three of them are on a collision course set in the grimy streets of New York, bound by old loyalties yet destined to clash and draw new blood. Penn shares the screen with his once wife Robin Wright here, looking lovely as ever. There’s also supporting turns from John Turturro, John C. Reilly, R.D. Call, a geriatric Burgess Meredith and an unbilled cameo from James Russo. Penn, Harris and especially Oldman are like flint sparks, a trio that won’t be stopped and light up the screen for a spellbinding, visceral two hours until their eventual confrontation, hauntingly shot by cinematographer ” in the midst of a bustling St. Patrick’s Day parade. This one has been somewhat lost to the ages, like a number of other stellar crime dramas I can think of from the nineties. The cast, score and Joanou’s thoughtful direction make it an unforgettable piece of work. 

-Nate Hill