Film review – Blade Runner 2049 (Denis Villeneuve, 2017)

The announcement of a new Blade Runner film after a 35 year gap was always bound to be met with trepidation from the loyal fans of the original. Ridley Scott’s sci-fi epic, first released in 1982, has undergone something of a cult status transformation and is now generally viewed as one of the greatest sci-fi films of all time, holding a 91% audience rating on results aggregator Rotten Tomatoes and serving as a touch point for films of all genres for generations. Surely bringing back the film for a rather needless sequel, re-treading old ground that fans didn’t want to revisit, would only result in failure.

Actually, the countless versions of the original film available to view indicate just how willing Scott was to wring the masterpiece for every drop of life, managing to go unnoticed as he George Lucased every scene and finally settled on 2007’s The Final Cut. The main reason he got away with it? Two-fold. Firstly, Blade Runner has fewer fans than Star Wars. Secondly, Scott was actually improving on the original.

So, thinking about it Blade Runner 2049 makes perfect sense. It can build on the existing fanbase, re-ignite interest in the original film and give a new and ambitious director a crack at creating something truly original and perhaps turn the cult film into a blockbuster franchise.

The man tasked with doing this is Denis Villeneuve, a director who crafted two excellent films in recent years in the form of drug crime-thriller Sicario and futuristic sci-fi Arrival.

Did he achieve everything the fans and studio had wanted prior to seeing the film? Not really. But the final result is absolutely astonishing and perhaps better than anyone could have possibly hoped for.

Set in 2049, the plot focuses on Ryan Gosling’s “K”, an agent working for the LAPD as a “Blade Runner”. It is his job to hunt down and eliminate rogue replicants – bioengineered humans who have been integrated into society to serve specific jobs, essentially working as slaves. K lives with a holographic girlfriend named Joi (Ana de Armas), a product of the replicant manufacturing company The Wallace Corporation, a company building on the work started by the Tyrell Corporation and headed up by Niander Wallace (Jared Leto). After K finds some potentially revelatory evidence that a replicant may have been a female replicant that gave birth to a child, his superior Lieutenant Joshi (Robin Wright) orders him to destroy the evidence to prevent an unpreventable conflict between humans and replicants should the knowledge reach the public. Going against his boss’s orders, K chooses to investigate a mysterious replicant named Rachael, with all routes pointing towards a former blade runner named Rick Deckard (Harrison Ford).

Villeneuve’s vision, created alongside cinematographer Roger Deakins, has turned out to be one of the most visually stunning spectacles of the year. A shoo-in for a Visual Effects nomination at the Academy Awards, the dull, desolate misery of the original film are replaced with brilliant orange hues, polarised colour palettes and sensory overloads. That it still feels part of the same universe seems unlikely, but it definitely does.

Ryan Gosling is perfectly cast as K, a replicant battling with questions about his own mortality. The pacing to some may feel slow, but in reality it is a deliberate choice. As K discovers more pieces about the puzzle, we as the viewer are given space to breathe and think about the very same questions. It an overpoweringly intelligent way to deliver a film and puts a lot of faith into the viewers that they are intelligent enough to process what is going on.

Questions remained about the character Joi throughout its cinematic release, and beyond. Criticism focused on the fact that Joi exists only to serve the needs of Ryan Gosling, and is totally dependant on him. My take on her was entirely different – indeed her inclusion felt like a genuine triumph. As a character, she has been created to show huge developments in replicants since the original film, but also poses further questions to the viewer. If a product could be bought straight off the shelf to stimulate every human emotion just as required, would that be a good thing or a bad thing for the human race? Does removing real emotion through human interaction make us any “less human than human”?

Director Villeneuve responded to the criticism, stating:

“Cinema is a mirror on society. Blade Runner is not about tomorrow; it’s about today. And I’m sorry, but the world is not kind on women. There’s a sense in American cinema: you want to portray an ideal world. You want to portray a utopia. That’s good—dreams for a better world, to advocate for something better, yes. But if you look at my movies, they are exploring today’s shadows. The first Blade Runner is the biggest dystopian statement of the last half century. I did the follow-up to that, so yes, it’s a dystopian vision of today. Which magnifies all the faults. That’s what I’ll say about that.” [full article here]

Incidentally, Julia Alexander wrote a superb and balanced article on the matter on the website Polygon, which is well worth checking out.

Box office

Blade Runner 2049’s performance at the global box office may well have done it out of further sequels, no doubt to the disappointment of Warner Bros. It made money – $258m based on a $150m budget (as of 24th December 2017) – but not enough money. It feels like a risky prospect to pump more money into the franchise when the likely drop-off in profit would potentially lead to a loss-maker.

This is a double-edged sword. 2049 feels like a fitting end to the original film, complimenting it whilst not ruining its mystery and intrigue. It would be difficult to achieve a third great film in the saga, so a studio unwilling to make any more instalments is a positive. However, it felt refreshing to see a genuinely thought-provoking blockbuster that left me contemplating the contents for weeks. It’s sad to think there will be fewer of these in the future.

Verdict

Blade Runner 2049 is a breath of fresh air for cinema in 2017. Villeneuve should get substantial credit for pulling off the near-impossible. He’s created a visually-stunning masterpiece that builds on the original without ruining any of it. Whether it will be talked about as much as Ridley Scott’s original in 35 years’ time remains to be seen, but for now it feels like a more-than-worthy addition to the story. Simply brilliant.

Short films

There were three short films created to bridge the gap between the original film and the new instalment, which can be viewed in chronological order below.

They don’t ruin anything about the film, but they do compliment it quite well. Very much worth watching.

Black Out 2022

2036: Nexus Dawn

2048: Nowhere to Run

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Academy Award for Best Song 2017

Here’s a quick look at the songs nominated for Best Song at the 89th Academy Awards.

My money’s on either of the La La Land songs, but could there be an upset on the cards? Surely Sting is out of the running before he discussions have even started.

What do you think?

La La Land – “City of Stars”

La La Land – “Audition”

Moana – “How Far I’ll Go”

Jim – “The Empty Chair”

Trolls – “Can’t Stop The Feeling”

Why La La Land probably won’t clean up at this year’s Academy Awards

The critical enthusiasm for La La Land has been matched, for good reason, by the audience’s outpouring of affection. The music is now firmly stuck in the heads of everyone who has seen it, with many of its devotees wondering what the odds are for it to clean up at the Oscars.

Here I’ll explain why this probably won’t be the case.

What’s the current record?

Three films have won 11 Oscars: Ben Hur, (1959), Titanic (1997) and Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King (2003). Titanic managed these with 14 nominations, whilst the final Lord of the Rings film achieved a clean sweep, winning 11 out of 11 awards. Elsewhere, All About Eve (1950) received 14 nominations, though it only won 6 of these.

For La La Land to get close to this, it’s therefore going to need 11 or more nominations, and win almost all of them.

Which awards does it have a good chance of winning?

La La Land has a great chance at winning in many or all of the categories available to it: Best Picture; Best Director; Leading Actor and Actress; Original Song; Original Score; Best Writing (Original Screenplay) will certainly be places it will be nominated, so assuming the swell of enthusiasm continues it will probably do well in what are considered to be the major categories.

So where will it fall down?

There are 24 categories that the Academy awards prizes in, but that doesn’t mean that a film can win in 24 categories. There are two awards for animated films, two for documentary films, one for a film in a foreign language and one for a live action short film. So that’s six prizes that can’t be won.

There are two prizes for Best Writing: one is for an original screenplay and one is for an adapted screenplay. Since La La Land is an original script, it is excluded from the adapted screenplay category. That’s another one down.

Perhaps the most glaringly-obvious problem it faces is that there are only two characters in the film: Mia and Sebastian. So whilst they will probably get the nominations for leading actress and actor, there isn’t anyone of note in the film that could be classed as a supporting actor or actress. The closest would be John Legend’s portrayal of Keith, the frontman for the jazz band Seb joins halfway through the story, followed by Rosemarie DeWitt as Laura (Sebastian’s sister). It seems unlikely to pick up nods in these categories. Two more down.

Finally, a few categories have already been announced and La La Land doesn’t feature in any of them. The long-lists Best Makeup and Hairstyling and Best Visual Effects excluded La La Land from their lists. Two more down.

So where does that leave it?

It only has access to 13 awards and will need a nomination in each of the categories if it is going to break records. It’s not unrealistic for it to achieve this, but it will require nods in the likes of Best Production Design (awarded for interior design for the sets) and Best Costume Design to get there.

However, with a weak field to compete against, it is quite possible that it will do. this anyway! Here’s hoping!!

Golden Globes 2017 – Full list of winners

Here’s a complete list of all the winners and nominees at the Golden Globes last night.

FILM

Best motion picture – drama
Winner: Moonlight
Hacksaw Ridge
Hell or High Water
Lion
Manchester by the Sea

Best motion picture – comedy or musical
Winner: La La Land
20th Century Women
Deadpool
Florence Foster Jenkins
Sing Street

Best performance by an actor in a motion picture – drama
Winner: Casey Affleck – Manchester by the Sea
Joel Edgerton – Loving
Andrew Garfield – Hacksaw Ridge
Viggo Mortensen – Captain Fantastic
Denzel Washington – Fences

Best performance by an actress in a motion picture – drama
Winner: Isabelle Huppert – Elle
Amy Adams – Arrival
Jessica Chastain – Miss Sloane
Ruth Negga – Loving
Natalie Portman – Jackie

Best performance by an actor in a motion picture – comedy or musical
Winner: Ryan Gosling – La La Land
Colin Farrell – The Lobster
Hugh Grant – Florence Foster Jenkins
Jonah Hill – War Dogs
Ryan Reynolds – Deadpool

Best performance by an actress in a motion picture – comedy or musical
Winner: Emma Stone – La La Land
Annette Bening – 20th Century Women
Lily Collins – Rules Don’t Apply
Hailee Steinfeld – The Edge of Seventeen
Meryl Streep – Florence Foster Jenkins

Best performance by an actor in a supporting role in a motion picture
Winner: Aaron Taylor-Johnson – Nocturnal Animals
Mahershala Ali – Moonlight
Jeff Bridges – Hell or High Water
Simon Helberg – Florence Foster Jenkins
Dev Patel – Lion

Best performance by an actress in a supporting role in a motion picture
Winner: Viola Davis – Fences
Naomie Harris – Moonlight
Nicole Kidman – Lion
Octavia Spencer – Hidden Figures
Michelle Williams – Manchester by the Sea

Best director – motion picture
Winner: Damien Chazelle – La La Land
Tom Ford – Nocturnal Animals
Mel Gibson – Hacksaw Ridge
Barry Jenkins – Moonlight
Kenneth Lonergan – Manchester by the Sea

Best screenplay – motion picture
Winner: Damien Chazelle – La La Land
Tom Ford – Nocturnal Animals
Barry Jenkins – Moonlight
Kenneth Lonergan – Manchester by the Sea
Taylor Sheridan – Hell or High Water

Best animated feature film
Winner: Zootopia
Kubo and the Two Strings
Moana
My Life as a Zucchini
Sing

Best foreign language film
Winner: Elle
Divines
Neruda
The Salesman
Toni Erdmann

Best original score – motion picture
Winner: Justin Hurwitz – La La Land
Hans Zimmer, Pharrell Williams, Benjamin Wallfisch – Hidden Figures
Dustin O’Halloran, Hauschka – Lion
Johann Johannsson – Arrival
Nicholas Britell – Moonlight

Best original song – motion picture
Winner: City of Stars – La La Land
Can’t Stop the Feeling – Trolls
Faith – Sing
Gold – Gold
How Far I’ll Go – Moana

TELEVISION

Best television series – drama
Winner: The Crown
Game of Thrones
Stranger Things
This is Us
Westworld

Best television series – comedy or musical
Winner: Atlanta
Black-ish
Mozart in the Jungle
Transparent
Veep

Best mini-series or motion picture made for television
Winner: The People v OJ Simpson: American Crime Story
American Crime
The Dresser
The Night Manager
The Night Of

Best performance by an actor in a television series – drama
Winner: Billy Bob Thornton – Goliath
Rami Malek – Mr Robot
Bob Odenkirk – Better Call Saul
Matthew Rhys – The Americans
Liev Schreiber – Ray Donovan

Best performance by an actress in a television series – drama
Winner: Claire Foy – The Crown
Caitriona Balfe – Outlander
Keri Russell – The Americans
Winona Ryder – Stranger Things
Evan Rachel Wood – Westworld

Best performance by an actor in a television series – comedy or musical
Winner: Donald Glover – Atlanta
Anthony Anderson – Black-ish
Gael Garcia Bernal – Mozart in the Jungle
Nick Nolte – Graves
Jeffrey Tambor – Transparent

Best performance by an actress in a television series – comedy or musical
Winner: Tracee Ellis Ross – Black-ish
Rachel Bloom – Crazy Ex-Girlfriend
Julia Louis-Dreyfus – Veep
Sarah Jessica Parker – Divorce
Issa Rae – Insecure
Gina Rodriguez – Jane the Virgin

Best performance by an actor in a mini-series or motion picture made for television
Winner: Tom Hiddleston – The Night Manager
Riz Ahmed – The Night Of
Bryan Cranston – All the Way
John Turturro – The Night Of
Courtney B Vance – The People v OJ Simpson: American Crime Story

Best performance by an actress in a mini-series or motion picture made for television
Winner: Sarah Paulson – The People v OJ Simpson: American Crime Story
Felicity Huffman – American Crime
Riley Keough – The Girlfriend Experience
Charlotte Rampling – London Spy
Kerry Washington – Confirmation

Best performance by an actor in a supporting role in a series, mini-series or motion picture made for television
Winner: Hugh Laurie – The Night Manager
Sterling K Brown – The People v OJ Simpson: American Crime Story
John Lithgow – The Crown
Christian Slater – Mr Robot
John Travolta – The People v OJ Simpson: American Crime Story

Best performance by an actress in a supporting role in a series, mini-series or motion picture made for television
Winner: Olivia Colman – The Night Manager
Lena Headey – Game of Thrones
Chrissy Metz – This is Us
Mandy Moore – This is Us
Thandie Newton – Westworld

New La La Land trailer released – Watch below!

I was buzzing for days after seeing La La Land at the London Film Festival last month. It’s a truly spectacular film and one I can’t wait to watch again.

Whilst I’m gutted the UK release date has been pushed back to January, I’m thrilled to see a new trailer has been released.

Watch it here:

It’s going to make you very happy.

Film review – La La Land (Damien Chazelle, 2016)

WARNING: This review is effusively positive. If you’re a misery-guts then please look away now.

Every once in a while you will go into a film knowing almost nothing about what you’re going to see and get absolutely blown away by a surprisingly perfect masterpiece. As you get further into your film-watching life, enjoying these moments becomes increasingly rare, so when a film like ‘La La Land’ comes along, you can’t help but be overcome by giddy excitement.

Damien Chazelle shot to fame in 2014 with his critically acclaimed and rather special jazz-bully drama ‘Whiplash’. ‘La La Land’ shares very few similarities with it, bar an affinity to jazz that also featured prominently in his debut feature ‘Guy and Madeline on a Park Bench’. It does expand on a topic explored in ‘Whiplash’: the ongoing internal conflict of artists pursuing their dream at the expense of every other aspect of their life.

If you enjoyed his first two feature films but thought he couldn’t “do” mainstream, then prepare to be proven absolutely wrong seconds into the start. It opens with an over-the-top musical song and dance number set amidst a traffic jam. It’s an explosive one-shot (though there may have been some clever linking between extended shots) that received a round of applause at the end from an appreciative audience. Rightly so – it was jaw-dropping.

‘La La Land’ is, at heart, a homage to traditional musicals, with a joyful soundtrack matched by a couple of mesmerising performances from the lead performers Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone. Gosling stars as Sebastian, a struggling jazz pianist going from poor gig to poor gig in LA, with dreams of owning his own jazz club to fend off the death of jazz. Stone is Mia, a young actress moonlighting as a barista at the Warner Brothers Studio sets who can’t get a break she deserves in the film industry. After a number of serendipitous meets, Seb and Mia start to fall for each other and, with both a figurative and a literal song and a dance, their romance explodes.

With Seb being a jazz expert/enthusiast/nerd and them both being performers, Chazelle has given himself the platform on which to produce a naturalistic musical that will doubtless make it more acceptable to those who don’t normally class themselves as musical fans. There is also evidence of a significant amount of effort put in by Gosling to perfect the piano shots, which were impressively all performed by him.


It’s a film so visually stunning it’s hard to take your eyes away from it. There is, however, never a risk that it was simply a platform to reference more familiar films of old. In a breathtaking final segment, we take a walk through memory lane with nods to a number of classic musicals, but they are simply nods in what amounts to one of the most perfectly-balanced final sequences I’ve seen in cinema. Gasps were audible around the auditorium.

The soundtrack is destined to stick around for years to come. Gosling/Stone duets “City of Stars” and “A Lovely Night” are both standouts, but it will be “Audition (The Fools Who Dream)” that will be vying for an Oscar early next year. A beautiful number written by Justin Harwitz, Benj Pasek and Justin Paul, it is left to Emma Stone to deliver an emotionally raw live performance.

The only downside for me is that I have to wait for another two months to see it again. A must see.