Tag Archives: Roger Deakins

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

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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.

DENIS VILLENEUVE’S SICARIO – A Review by Frank Mengarelli

“You should move to a small town, somewhere the rule of law still exists. You will not survive here. You are not a wolf, and this is a land of wolves now.”

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SICARIO is a blunt unveiling of the dark side of America’s foreign policy.  Set on the Mexican border, the film follows a shadow team made up of different agencies shaking down drug cartels, all the while the team plays kingmaker by rearranging power.  The plot and political commentary is dense.  Not once does the film come across as heavy handed, nor does it preach bias.  In turn, it makes the film that much more powerful and brutally honest.

The brilliant cinematic team of filmmaker Denis Villeneuve and cinematographer Roger Deakins (who are reteaming for the untitled BLADE RUNNER sequel) are a force to be reckoned with.  Villeneuve keeps a taut and thrilling pace, while Deakins composes remarkable visuals frame by frame.  Taylor Sheridan’s icy script, Johann Johannsson’s score, and Joe Walker’s editing complement the film in a perfect way, keeping the tight narrative intact while balancing such heavy subject matter.

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The cast is led by the idealistic Emily Blunt, supported by the realist CIA man Josh Brolin, and the lethal assassin Benicio Del Toro who all give career high performances and play off of one another in a way that meshes the film together wonderfully.  Blunt is amazing.  She’s more than a badass woman with a gun; she’s the heart of the film.  She’s out for blood after members of her team get killed on a cartel raid in the opening scene, and she’s lured in by the affable Brolin, promising to cure her bloodlust if she comes along on his secret mission.  Most importantly, the reality of what the team is doing slowly starts to grind at her, and she quickly begins to realize that what they are doing is not the “right” thing to do.

Benicio Del Toro is the standout in an already masterful film.  His stoicism is this mysterious fuse that is slowly burning.  The entire film, we know nothing about him, until the third act where we learn everything in one short and impactful scene.  The scene is so jaw dropping, that even upon rewatching the film; you can’t believe it is actually happening.

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There are few Hollywood films that are as bold as SICARIO.  The thematic elements are heavy, as is the brutal violence, but what the film is saying is what makes it so powerful.  Sometimes America needs to bring down the iron fist to be the overall good guy.  Regardless of morality or holding ourselves to a higher standard, the world needs a shadow team like the one in SICARIO to help restore and counter the evil powers that be in this world.

O Brother Where Art Thou? -A Review by Nate Hill

The Coen Brother’s O Brother Where Art Thou is just a rush of pure originality, musical genius and inspired storytelling, situated outside the box of used conventions, and rooted deeply in a whimsical realm of absurd, charming characters on an epic odyssey across the American south during arguably the most eccentric time period, the 1930s Great Depression. It’s the Coen’s second best for me (it’s hard to top the Lebowski, dude), and a film that I watched so many time growing up that it’s almost now a piece of my soul. It’s loosely based on Homer’s The Odyssey. Three bumbling convicts escape from a dusty chain gang in a delightful opening romp set to Harry McClintock’s The Big Rock Candy Mountain. Ulysses Everett McGill (George Clooney) is their silver tongued, troublemaking leader, on his way to reunite with his estranged wife (Holly Hunter, reliably stubborn and sassy) and little daughters. Along with him is short tempered Pete (Coen regular John Turturro in top form) and sweet, dimwitted Delmar (Tim Blake Nelson). Together they get in just about every kind of trouble that you can imagine three hapless convicts on the run in depression era south getting into. They briefly share paths with musician Tommy (Chris Thomas King), cross the radar of a boisterous bible salesman (John Goodman, stealing scenes as usual with his effortless, booming charm), become involved with duelling governor candidates Homer Stokes and Pappy O Daniels (Wayne Duvall and Charles Durning), and have run ins with sexy sirens led by Musetta Vander, the KKK, notorious mobster George Babyface Nelson (Michael Badalucco has to be seen to be believed as the lively, likely bi polar suffering wise guy) and more, all the while pursued by mysterious Sheriff Cooley (Daniel Von Bargen, RIP). It’s quite al lot of goings on for one film, but the Coens are masters of telling zany, eclectic stories that deviate into all sorts of unexpected subplots without ever derailing and losing us. This one flows along wondrously, a wild, funny and haunting fable that almost feels like a dust bowl Dante’s Inferno at times, albeit of much lighter subject matter. Roger Deakins spins poetry with his lens, capturing every chaff of wheat, every ray of southern sun and brown hued set design with painstaking expertise. What really holds it together though, is the absolute knockout soundtrack. There’s so many moments of now iconic musical storytelling that we feel we’re watching a strange bluegrass lullaby that just happens to take place in cinematic vision. The Coens have always known their music, but they transcend to another level of intuition here, gathering an incredibly evocative group of songs and artists together that stir the collective ancestral memory of historical Americana. Off the top of my head there’s You Are My Sunshine, Keep On The Sunny Side, I’ll Fly Away beautifully warbled by the Kossoy Sisters, Didn’t Leave Nobody But The Babe sung by the slinky sirens, In The Highways by the adorable Peasall sisters, Jimmie Rodgers’s In The Jailhouse Now, Lonesome Valley, Ralph Stanley’s two eerie pieces O Death, and Angel Band, also by the Peasall Gals, and the classic Down To The River To Pray, which sneaks up on you and leaves you in rapture from its inescapable grip. My favourite by far though is I Am A Man Of Constant Sorrow, an endlessly catchy hobo tune of jangling melancholy and highway humour, sung by John Hartford but cheekily lip synced by Clooney and team, an original piece made up on the fly by the three characters that goes on to make them ridiculously famous under the pseudonym the ‘Soggy Bottom Boys’. It’s all an intoxicating wonder to take in, the period authentic screenplay and production a feast for the senses. The Coens seem to be adept at whatever they try; sly satire, period piece, stinging violence, dark humour, and even touching drama when they put their minds to it. This is a career high for them, a totally unique piece of art that demands multiple viewings and a spot in any avid movie collectors pantheon.