Blonde Nightmare

blonde1Blonde, 2022, 166 mins, Netflix

I must confess, impressed as I was by Ana de Armas in BR2049 and Knives Out, I would never have imagined her ever playing Marilyn Monroe, and when I first heard of her casting for Andrew Dominik’s Blonde I was quite incredulous. Still, what do I know, I thought Ben Affleck was going to be a disaster as Batman and he turned out to be the best incarnation of the caped crusader I’ve yet seen. So it turns out Ana de Armas is the highlight of Blonde, with an absolutely arresting performance which should get attention come awards season unless the films more notorious elements hold it back (I don’t think the Academy appreciates the Hollywood Dream Factory being portrayed in a bad light).

Blonde seems to be getting a mixed response from critics. To say I enjoyed it actually feels wrong, I mean, how can anyone actually enjoy something as dark and unrelenting as this film? But I did, in as much as I thought it was very good indeed, fascinating and unnerving with great performances and lovely art direction and attention to detail. Its powerful and intense stuff. Watching it just a week after seeing Baz Luhrmann’s Elvis felt rather curious though; two biopics of such iconic people in such close succession, and both being so grim. I’ve noticed critic Mark Kermode describe Blonde as a horror film, and he’s absolutely spot-on, but to be honest that was my experience with Elvis too. Baz Luhrmann’s film itself felt like a horror film, it’s Col Tom Parker a predatory character with devilish eyes something like a killer in a 1980s slasher movie. I remember feeling quite down after watching Elvis, it wasn’t as uplifting as I’d expected it to be, instead feeling disturbed by Parker and Tom Hank’s very effective turn, the film felt less of a celebration of Elvis Presley’s life and more a tragedy.

So here comes Blonde and its pulled the same trick, examining the misery and nightmare of Norma Jean/Marilyn Monroe’s life in such an unrelenting way its operating at some other magnitude entirely. The dark side of Hollywood is hardly a surprise to anyone now, surely. We’ve all read revelations of the misdoings of superstars of old that was covered up by the Studios, and the Harvey Weinstein saga depressingly reminded us how little things have changed. Hollywood is a dark place that destroys people just as much as it makes people into superstars. Many of the ‘revelations’ within Blonde are hardly going to be new to anyone familiar with Marilyn Monroe’s life story, and in some respects it actually holds its punches. We don’t see as much as I’d expected regards the Kennedy brothers and the mob and how Marilyn was caught up in that, nor does the film suggest anything about her death: it might have been accidental, it may have been despairing suicide, but there’s no intimation of actual murder.

I’ve seen Blonde come under fire, particularly from her adoring fanbase, for not being more of a celebration of Marilyn’s success, showing what makes her such an icon today, her relationship with the camera in all her movies and photo shoots. There may be something to those criticisms, but in  the films defence, its simply not that movie- it’s like pro-shark activists criticising Jaws for showing sharks in a bad light. Blonde is deliberately and absolutely a cautionary tale. If anything, it makes the good in Marilyn’s life, those performances (in Some Like It Hot, for instance), actually seem even more extraordinary considering what was going on behind the scenes. Considering Norma Jean’s childhood and all that came before Hollywood itself, I think her achievements and the fact she remains such an icon today are something to be marvelled at, no doubt.

I’m not the first or likely the last to have noticed a Lynchian undertone to the film- the excellent soundtrack score by Warren Ellis and Nick Cave sounds like, and functions like, an Angelo Badalamenti score, and of course the storyline mirrors that of Twin Peaks and in particular Fire Walk with Me‘s portrayal of Laura Palmers dark descent. Had Blonde actually been a David Lynch film, would it be getting some of the criticism Andrew Dominik’s film is getting? Possibly not; audiences would perhaps have more of a mindset of what to expect, and Lynch is adored for making films about the dark underbelly of America, he’s practically fireproof. I don’t think Andrew Dominik is as bulletproof as Lynch, but I think its admirable that in today’s Hollywood Dominik got to make the film he wanted to make.

The Gray Man: Action flicks need a reboot

gray1The Gray Man, 2022, 122 mins, Netflix

The Gray Man isn’t terrible- I’ve certainly seen far worse Netflix Originals – Outside The Wire, Red Notice, The Woman in the Window, Father Christmas is Back, and the recent Interceptor immediately spring to mind – but it is sadly typical of so many films these days, especially from Netflix, who still seem to be preoccupied with competing with the Hollywood Silver Screen Big Boys (any explosion you can do, I can do bigger). The worst thing about it is how it ably summarises where the action film genre is right now, a kind of film that badly needs a reboot. We still seem to be caught in a post-Bourne Identity wave of action films, something that infected Bond and much every film with a big stunt and fight sequence in it. Some films, most notably the John Wick series, seem to have made their own niche and proved successful with it, but most everything else seems to be floundering with ever-more sophisticated and increasingly ridiculous stunt and fight sequences that inspire unintended laughter rather than respectful awe.

Maybe I’m cursing the Bourne films too unfairly- its likely just as much the trend for costumed superheroes that’s causing all this, and the action-film’s apparent need to compete with all that wall-shattering, bullet-proof nonsense of costumed nutters with silly powers. Oh, for the days of Die Hard

Some six-foot giant of a thug punches me in the face, I’m likely to have a fractured jaw, fewer teeth, serious concussion and a bruised swollen countenance lasting months. I know movies are the land of Make Believe but its getting crazy what happens to our action stars now – guys who may be ‘professional killers’ but who lack the powers of your average Kryptonian. They survive stabbings, gunshot wounds, being thrown through glass windows, falling from great heights, car crashes, explosions… I know, I sound like a killjoy hellbent on spoiling everyone’s fun, we all like our heroes to be a little larger than life, that’s part of the fun of action movies, but surely its gone too far, its getting more into parody now. You don’t need to make something like an Airplane! or Top Secret! comedy to ridicule current action-film tropes; The Gray Man is already it.

To be clear, The Gray Man is everything it was intended to be. Its some kind of action/ spy thriller in which a secret agent (codename ‘Six’) from some covert group operating within the CIA stumbles upon a conspiracy that causes him to question the ‘rightfulness’ of his actions and the integrity of his superiors, going on the run and subsequently pursued by every killer in the Uber Assassins Handbook in a global chase that decimates cities and a castle, killing hundreds, maiming thousands. Naturally everyone is beautiful and sexy, muscle-toned  and well-dressed, even some of the bad guys. Its a spy fantasy on some level astronomically beyond even the daftest Roger Moore 007 flick.

Its competently acted, has some great, albeit increasingly preposterous stunt sequences, wasting some $220 million with absolutely ruthless efficiently. On one level, one has to admire it.

gray2But its also so woeful. Ana de Armas seems to be increasingly wasted in these dumb support roles which are a) one dimensional and b) repeatedly daft with her beating the shit out of guys twice her size. She’s very pretty and apparently the Face Of The Moment, but there is depth to her as an actress -demonstrated in BR2049 and Knives Out– that is lost in all the carnage of these action flicks she’s slumming in. There seems to be a dominant male fantasy lately, as per No Time to Die and so many others, that seems to suggest that slim beautiful 5 ft 6 inch women can beat up musclebound brutes without creasing her designer dress (her cameo in No Time to Die was more silly than anything else to me but the fans seemed to love it).  I don’t know if its some kind of delirious, devious  Girls Can Too movement working away in the shadows but… hell, there’s plenty of instances in The Gray Man that I’m scoffing at six-foot hunks doing stuff, never mind fragile beauties… am I being sexist here? Should I shut up before I get trolled?

Chris Evans chews up the scenery in some fruitless attempt to out-act his moustache. He’s probably revelling at the opportunity to over-act in every scene he’s in: its not his fault, its exactly what’s being asked of him, he’s a cartoon bad guy in a Marvel movie posing as a semi-serious spy movie. I mean, that’s basically what The Gray Man is. The Russo dudes weren’t hired by coincidence. Yes its not a great movie but it is exactly what it is intended to be and very proficient at it. I’m questioning why it seems every action film is like it these days. Its so big,  So noisy. It takes us all over the world, spending huge amounts of Netflix money on a script that doesn’t warrant it (but isn’t that true of most every Hollywood movie and television show these days?). As for Ryan Gosling, I have the worrying feeling that this whole film is just some kind of audition for him being cast in an MCU flick.

I wonder what Martin Scorsese thinks of this film.

A dreadful proposal: Deep Water

deeplyDeep Water, 2022, 115 mins, Amazon Prime

A very silly film, this, about a toxic marriage that… well, I suppose this kind of thing trended well back in the 1990s; indeed, director Adrian Lyne had great success with this sort of tosh with Fatal Attraction (1987) and Indecent Proposal (1993), but while Deep Water is competently made and shot (as one would expect from someone like Lyne) its just.. so silly it borders on parody.

This time around its Vic (Ben Affleck) a fabulously wealthy and handsome husband of beautiful and sultry Melinda (Ana de Armas) who is strangely bored with her marriage and her fabulously wonderful daughter Trixie (film-stealing Grace Jenkins). Melinda fools around having successive affairs and Vic sleeps in the spare room getting increasingly suspicious of her late nights and drunken behaviour at the fabulous parties they keep going to. Melinda isn’t in the slightest bit discreet regards her affairs, even inviting each beau to the next party they are at, raising embarrassed glances from party-goers and freinds. Vic of course is beefed-up like he’s ready to appear in a Batman movie so when Melinda’s lovers each disappear… well, it wouldn’t take the Worlds Greatest Detective to deduce who the prime suspect is, so a local author, Don (Tracie Letts) realises there might be a great book in what’s going on in the neighbourhood.

Its pretty nauseating nonsense, really. The fabulous lives of the fabulously attractive and fabulously wealthy elite have nothing at all in common with my everyday experience: as we Brits say, its all bollocks. I’m supposed to feel sympathy with fabulously wealthy Vic married to fabulously beautiful Melinda with fabulously perfect daughter Trixie? I’m supposed to maybe understand fabulous Melinda’s boredom and promiscuous nature? Melinda is a beautiful trophy-wife but a frankly hideous character. Meanwhile, I’m not supposed to laugh at Vic’s preposterously odd hobby of raising snails/slugs in his garden shed/Batcave mancave? Moreover, I’m not supposed to be too concerned at an apparent lack of screen chemistry between the two leads?

To be fair, Ana de Armas plays a fabulous drunk and she exudes sensuality etc fabulously (she’s certainly not reticent regards shedding her clothes in films). Ben Affleck broods well but we knew he could manage that from his Batman role, and here he just looks too… well, handsome man-mountain- he’s hardly an Everyman, in just the same way his wife is hardly an Everywoman. Is this the fabulously toxic marriage we ordinary folks are supposed to aspire to? Affleck’s best moments are when he’s showing some genuine warmth, mostly those scenes he shares with the delightful Grace Jenkins, who genuinely steals the film from her adult stars. Highlight of the film is her singing in the back of the family car, reprised in the films end-credits for a bit of outtake fun, but a sexy thriller is in trouble when its stolen by its child actor and the best scene in the film is during the end-credits.

At any rate, the film gradually descends into farce and features the mother of all contrived coincidences once author Don stumbles upon Vic’s final (?) crime. I mean, that entire final reel is so audacious it almost deserves to be applauded, I couldn’t quite believe my eyes. It deserves some kind of award. One of those fabulous raspberries, probably.

The Night Clerk (2020)

nite1Oh boy, this was a strange one: a bit of a murder/crime thriller by way of arthouse cinema – on the one hand too sophisticated for its own good, on the other clearly too simplistic and conveniently plotted to really enthral.  Its saving grace is two great performances – Tye Sheridan is utterly convincing as Bart, the titular hotel night clerk with Asperger Syndrome, and Ana de Armas quite beguiling as the troubled beautiful hotel guest Andrea. The two characters strike up an unlikely friendship and their scenes together prove to be the strongest part of the movie. Its when they are offscreen that the film falters.

The films central premise is that Bart is highly intelligent albeit socially awkward and isolated, and in an attempt to improve his social skills he has used his technical talents to put cameras and microphones in some of the hotel rooms with which to study the behaviour of the guests. The film doesn’t really spend any of the time that Kubrick or Lynch might have used to examine what voyeuristic kicks Bart gets out of it, instead it quickly leads into a murder thriller when Bart witnesses a female guest getting murdered and his attempt to stop it (and later hide his bugging equipment etc) only gets him implicated as a suspect. The police, led by Detective Espada (a pretty much wasted John Leguizamo who possibly dropped in for a few days easy work) consider Bart their chief suspect but while they get closer to what Bart has been doing, spying on the guests etc, Bart strikes up a connection with another female guest who quickly becomes the possible next victim.

I do just want to raise something that bugged the shit out of me watching this movie- what the hell happened to Helen Hunt? She plays Bart’s mother, Ethel, and I’d watched her first scene thinking the role was being played by some ill-cast and stiff-looking incredibly poor actress only for Claire to inform me “that’s Helen Hunt“.  Now, I have to be careful here- it seems clear to me that she has had some kind of surgery and I have no idea whether it is related to some accident or illness, but if this was purely cosmetic its a hideous failure. I’ve always liked and admired Helen Hunt, she was great in all the films I’ve ever seen her in – Trancers, The Bucket List, Twister, Cast Away, admittedly I’ve not caught her in anything for several years- but good grief, her face seems to have one expression now (concerned frown)  and that’s it. It bugged me throughout the film, really bothered and distracted me, damn near ruined the film. Why can’t Hollywood allow its ladies to age gracefully and naturally? I’m probably being grossly unfair and inappropriate towards her but its just how I felt watching her in this. It looked like she was wearing prosthetics or something.

So anyway, the film was fine albeit disturbing for all the wrong reasons. Its one of those films that stretches credibility too far, and I suppose therefore individual mileage may vary when watching it. I was quite enamoured by Ana de Armas, as is becoming usual- I was so impressed by her in BR2049 and most recently Knives Out, and again she really is great here. I wonder if she may be slipping too easily into similar roles and maybe she should rebel against what may be the usual typecasting, but regards what this role requires of her she is quite excellent. You can’t bemoan an actor just doing well what he or she is given to work with, character-wise. She’s beautiful and emotive with those amazing eyes… I hope to see her in future in something more challenging and at odds with the parts of seen her in up to now.  Her one failing in this is that I suspect she could have done with a little more darkness, I was split as to whether she was genuinely being  caring towards Bart or just being manipulative- the end of the film takes this weird, not utterly convincing turn.

Anyway, I quite enjoyed the film but its clearly one of those films lost on Netflix that only needs watching when there’s nothing else out there of any interest, and considering all the stuff on Netflix, whats the odds of that? Eventually people will stumble upon it and they may be bored stiff, they may be enthralled. I wonder just how many will realise that’s Helen Hunt up on the screen without a WTF moment upon them seeing her name on the credits.

 

Knives Out (2019)

knives1With Knives Out, Rian Johnson returns to what he seems to do best- films full of artifice, manipulation both subtle and obvious, with plenty of twists and turns and entertainment. Its something that time travel movies (Looper (2012)), and whodunnit movies (Knives Out) are eminently suited to, especially when characters are your own creation and can act in whatever way best suits your movie and screenplay. Harlan Thrombey (Christopher Plummer) a famous mystery writer can suddenly take a 180 in behaviour and it doesn’t ring untrue because we haven’t seen him establish other tendencies in three other movies.

It doesn’t, ahem, suit established franchises like Star Wars and its characters who have established mythology and behaviour. But lets not go into that again.

So yeah- Knives Out. Turns out its a pretty great movie, a hugely entertaining entry in the whodunnit genre offering a labyrinthine plot in which super-sleuth detective Benoit Blanc (Daniel Craig obviously relishing the opportunity to chew up the scenery like never before) is tasked with solving a complex murder mystery when it appears that Harlan Thrombey’s suicide is not as it seems. The conceit of the movie is that we are let in on what actually happened and once ‘in’ on the mystery we can still be manipulated by the film as we may not actually know what we think we know.

Its an absurdly old-fashioned film, in surprising ways, gathering an old-fashioned parade of star actors in its cast, like some Hollywood studio picture of old (Plummer, Craig, Chris Evans, Jamie Lee Curtis, Don Johnson, Michael Shannon, Toni Collete, Ana de Armas headlining… a list of talent old and new, with a few character actors like M.Emmet Walsh and Frank Oz thrown in for good measure). It reminded me considerably of Kenneth Branagh’s 2017 Murder on the Orient Express, a film I likewise enjoyed with its strong cast and old-Hollywood sensibilities. Paradoxically, of course, Knives Out is also very modern and feels very contemporary. Its a grand, almost intoxicating mix and I thoroughly enjoyed it. What in the world was Rian Johnson doing messing about in the Star Wars universe?

Knives Out is of course out on DVD and Blu-Ray, and is currently streaming on Amazon Prime. 

Film Notes: Blade Runner 2049 Pt.2

br2049bldgBlade-Runner-2049-0093So K walks home in the snow, approaches his apartment building- we see holographic advertisements for Sony and Off World up in the sky (I must admit, I still rather miss the blimp) and the camera pulls down as K crosses the street to his building. Within the building he is forced to climb the stairs which are crowded with people in shots reminiscent of Soylent Green (a great callback to a 1970s classic, if deliberate, and who is to say it isn’t? In some ways, 1970s dystopian films such as Soylent Green are as much predecessors of  BR2049 as the original Blade Runner movie is).

Presumably, these are homeless people sheltering from the cold outside, hinting that overcrowding in this city is still a problem, or at least that, as the outside world has gone to ruin, a toxic wilderness or city outskirts with no power or sanitation, there is less space for those left who are unable to leave for Off World.

Blade-Runner-2049-0095There is also the suggestion of everything breaking down- the elevator isn’t working (the screenplay states he climbs eighty stories!).  A woman launches a tirade against K that is subtitled – is she using Cityspeak, another nod to the first film? It seems nobody likes Replicants- earlier when we saw K entering the police headquarters a cop threatened him (“fuck off, skinjob”) which, like this encounter here, doesn’t seem to overly bother K. He’s no doubt used to it, inured to it by constant harassment. He reaches his apartment and steps through the crowd to his door, unlocks it and steps inside. When he closes it behind him we can see the legend ‘Fuck Off Skinner‘ scrawled across the door. Really, even in a world graced by Wallace Corp, Replicants guaranteed to obey, humans still don’t like them- or at least, that part of humanity left on Earth that does not benefit from them.

Blade-Runner-2049-0099We see an exterior shot of K’s apartment, looking in through the window as he moves around inside. Shafts of light move across what seem to be supporting girders around the window, some lovely sound effects play over the soundtrack and falling snow is caught in the shifting light. Its one of my favourite shots in the movie- its quite unnecessary I suppose, its just a few seconds but it offers a real sense of place and atmosphere and mood. The fact that they choose to just throw shots like that in a film can only make you love it more, you know?

br2049apartmDetailing is exquisite. In a reverse shot a little later, we can see out of the window across to the building opposite, and in some of the lighted windows across there, figures can be seen, moving. Again, strictly speaking, stuff like this is superfluous, unnecessary, but I think all together they sort of accumulate into a hyper-reality, just as everything seemed to in the first film.

Blade-Runner-2049-0102K glues his cut arm, cleans up: takes a shower which a voice announces is a burst of “99.9% detoxified water.” For some reason the woman’s voice recalls that of the woman who voiced the prologue narration of John Carpenter’s Escape From New York. Again, the shot of the shower, the detail about the detoxified water… it all charts the environment, the proscenium, as Ridley was fond of describing it (at least I remember he did, I tried to find the quote, but failed. Must keep looking). But these are all hints, things for attentive viewers to discern and process- if God is in the details, then the genius of this film is in those same details, if you want to work at seeing and processing them.

(Imagine, for a moment, an alternate ‘Idiots version of BR2049‘: complete with a voice-over narration like the original theatrical version of Blade Runner. I suppose it would be able to explain everything we are seeing, from those disused solar fields or the weather or the baseline test or the crowded stairs. I think I might write one someday, it would probably be incredibly funny, listening to K describe everything in laconic Film Noir/bored Harrison Ford-like voiceover.)

Blade-Runner-2049-0104We see K preparing some food in his kitchen, another wonderful nod back to the production design of the first film. So many incidental details, so much fascinating production design to feast the eyes upon. And yet, none of this really seems to draw attention to itself for its own sake. There is a restraint throughout this film, as spectacular as it is at times, more about the visuals informing the story than simply wowing us as spectators. Clearly at odds with the traditional Hollywood blockbuster as such films exist today.

During this sequence, we have heard a woman’s voice, having a conversation with K. When we finally see her, it is obvious that she isn’t ‘real’: she is Joi, a computer AI/Hologram, or some technology off-shoot from holograms, ‘Hard-light’ or something? I must admit I was initially troubled by her- I always overthink things, like ‘where is her voice being broadcast from?’, ‘how can ‘she’ where everything is around her?’, ‘where is the circuitry for her AI?’ I guess we really need to recall the old quote by Arthur C Clarke that ‘Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic‘; and just go with it- its 2049, an alternate 2049 at that, and while they are still using CRT screens they are way ahead in other things.  In any case, she is a digital companion, and clearly very important to K.

br2049joi1Blade-Runner-2049-0143.jpgOne more point to make here regards Joi- she is a remarkable combination of performance by Ana de Armas and the artistry of the visual effects team at Double Negative in Vancouver; a wonderfully subtle visual effect that doesn’t call for our attention but is simply there, throughout, in one form or another. Either when she glitches slightly or whenever a strong light sits behind her and is cast through her, some of it is hardly there, but it always is there. Its one of the very best visual effects that I can recall seeing in years, such a subtle manipulation of image that you could be forgiven, as a viewer, for not even realizing the fakery at work here (part of this, I’m sure, is the performance by Ana de Armas which is, like so many of the performances in the film, simply on another level). Its seems a relatively simple visual effect but I suspect it is far more complex than it appears.

br2049joi4K has used his bonus from hunting down Sapper Morton to buy Joi an Emanator. This is a device which will enable her to leave his apartment, having being ‘locked-down’ to a projector arm in his apartment ceiling (“I’m getting cabin fever” Joi joked to him a few minutes earlier).  Holographic text appears around Joi- a reminder that she is a program, a product, an extension of the Google assistants etc on our mobile devices of today. Another observation- no mobile phones or internet in this Blade Runner universe (I really want to live there).

Blade-Runner-2049-0177K takes Joi up to the roof. This is so beautifully shot, this sequence, with truly remarkable sound design that is woven so delicately though it. Its possibly my favourite sequence in the entire movie. The sound of the falling rain, rattling on metal, splashing in puddles, the sound of a distant spinner flying, the hum of machinery, a distant rumble of thunder, the soundtrack synths playing though it, the searchlights piercing through the night and the misty, damp air, the characters figures reduced to silhouettes.  The production design, the surrounding cityscape, the nearby advertisement featuring an Asian woman’s face. Its so timeless, like stepping back into that 2019 so imitated over the years and yet feeling so authentic here. So Blade Runner, so Pure Cinema! Every time I see this sequence I never want it to end.

br2049roof“I’m so happy when I’m with you!” Joi gushes. “You don’t have to say that,” K corrects her, fully aware that she is just following her programming. She is a companion, an AI construct designed to befriend, cheer, comfort its owner. A digital alternative to Replicant pleasure models. K seems quite aware of Joi’s limitations, even if Joi herself isn’t. Which does raise a pertinent question- is this Joi just like any other Joi sold to the public, or is she actually something more? In just the same way as, presumably, most Replicants simply exist, function and obey, and then one like K comes around which starts to (apparently) think for itself and push against its boundaries, is Joi doing the same? In just the same way as ‘life finds a way’, is it true that AI finds a way too, that it finds a way to achieve a sense of unique self, and soul?  How much is freewill, how much is code, for any of the characters in this world? Both Joi and K are AI. Or are they real? How does one even measure ‘real’ in cases such as this? Does ‘I think, therefore I am’ even cut it in this world?

Blade-Runner-2049-0183Blade-Runner-2049-0191Joi almost looks a ghost- here on the roof, and yet not here. Light seeps through her fragile-looking form. Her graphics software seems to adapt to the rain that falls through her body and simulates how it would splash and soak a real body instead. Artifice continues to try to become real. Joi and K attempt an awkward and impossible embrace that will press a later solution from a (frustrated?) Joi. But now Joi suddenly freezes. A message from Joshi overrides Joi’s programming; Joshi wants K back at the station.

Blade-Runner-2049-0198X-ray images of a footlocker, and bones within it. Wonderful sounds of clunky, noisy machinery (the sound design really is quite remarkable in this film).

br2049morgueWe are in the morgue. We are told that the footlocker belonged to Sapper Morton from his military days, and that soil samples indicate that it has been buried some thirty years. The bones belonged to a woman.

Personal observation here- it immediately occurred to me when first watching the film last October, that the bones are whats left of Rachel. Its inevitable really, just do the math- 2049 minus 30 years. I remember feeling a lead weight in my chest, a feeling of genuine loss. There is an interesting meta-reality at work here- I remember ‘seeing’ Rachel, as Sean Young looked in 1980/81, an image frozen in celluloid, videotape and disc for all the decades of revisiting Blade Runner so many times: Sean Young/Rachel frozen in time.  Now she was just bones, the long years since 1982 as real as those between 2019 and 2049.

The film caught up with my suspicions almost immediately- K examines sensory data and microscopic imaging and discovers that the bones are those of a Replicant, and the soundtrack plays the same music as played over the prologue text at the beginning of the film. The score for this film seems to serve a different function to that of the original film’s score by Vangelis, and yet still sounds very ‘Blade Runner‘. I will always wonder, though, as to what composer Johann Johannsson’s score sounded like before it was replaced. I suspect some of Johannsson’s score filtered through- the moody atmospherics of the Wallace sequences sound suspiciously like his music. The music reprising from the films beginning would seem to indicate a recurring theme, of the nature of Replicants and the central mystery of this film.

The revelation that this female Replicant had given birth to a child will have repercussions throughout the remainder of the movie, and is indeed the core of the film.

Blade-Runner-2049-0224Blade-Runner-2049-0226Cut to Joshi’s office. Again we see an exterior shot, looking through a window into her office, in just the same way as we earlier had an exterior shot looking into K’s apartment. This time though we also have a closer exterior view, allowing us to see the pouring rain distort Joshi’s face as she raises the ramifications of what a Replicant giving birth means. Is this distortion of her face representing the disruption/anarchy she fears will ensue as the present order of things collapses?

Blade-Runner-2049-0231So we now cut to the interior proper, and see the outside world through her window as real as it looked outside of K’s apartment. This is no green-screen/CGI shot; through miniatures/forced perspective, atmospheric haze and physical weather effects the film continues its subtle definition of reality, which is a beautiful subtext when one considers what the films subject is.

Blade-Runner-2049-0242Joshi is sending K on a special mission, off the books, one assumes- to track down the Replicant child and destroy all trace.  K, like the dutiful Replicant that he is, obeys, but noticeably hesitates, a concern for Joshi and perhaps an early indication his next baseline test won’t be as simple as the one we saw earlier: “I never retired anything that was born, I guess,” he states. “To be born is to have a soul.”

“Are you telling me no?” Joshi presses, stepping towards him. A little threatening, perhaps a little worried.

“I wasn’t aware that was an option, madam,” K replies.

“Attaboy,” Joshi breathes, relaxing. “Hey,” she calls over to him as K leaves. “You’ve been getting by fine without one.”

“What is that, madam?” K asks.

Blade-Runner-2049-0243“A soul,” she states, already at her desk, working at some paperwork, dismissing him.

Here we have the central thesis of he film laid bare. The film allows us to consider this, by lingering over a shot of K leaving the office and closing the door behind him, and through a window in the door watch him walking away. Its a subtle thing, but so few films would actually take a moment to pause like this- usually it would simply cut to K flying over to the Wallace building and the next section of the film. Instead, then, it allows a moment for the audience to dwell on what has just been said. Already the film has shown us K’s digital AI companion, Joi, and postulated that she may be more ‘real’ than initially intended as a product, or the possibility that Joi and K are having some kind of relationship beyond one as simply owner/product. Now, the film has thrown up the nature of ‘being’, of what is real, the supposition that having a soul is what makes us real. Its throwing all these ideas up in the air, and we will see where they land and develop as the film progresses, but already the film is letting us chew over them.

Blade-Runner-2049-0246Blade-Runner-2049-0247While we ourselves consider the possibilities, its interesting that the film now cuts to an exterior shot of the police station roof, and K’s spinner in the falling rain. K is sitting in the car deep in thought- perhaps, like us, reflecting on what has just been said in Joshi’s office, what it means.  Or is K ruminating himself, as a Replicant, of what it means that a Replicant child has been born? His first doubts, his first glimmerings of moral uncertainty, of individual thought? That black and white world of absolutes and certainties that he lived in at the start of the film already falling away?

We cut now to perhaps the single best effects shot in the entire film- one that takes my breath away every time, in the grandest tradition of the 1982 film. We are looking upwards at Peugeot and Coca Cola advertisements on buildings above us before the camera swings away and down, almost impossibly, to a vertigo-inducing concrete canyon looking on streets far below- a canyon ablaze in light from an Atari advertisement/logo, and K’s spinner racing through it.

Blade-Runner-2049-0248Blade-Runner-2049-0250Blade-Runner-2049-0251Blade-Runner-2049-0252Another reminder that we are in an alternate reality, with Atari yet still a major corporation in this world, and yes, a little more fan service from the first film. Its a beautiful moment, a lovely effects shot and yes, another fine reminder of the original film.

K is on his way to Wallace Corp headquarters, in order to investigate the identity of the Replicant whose bones were stored in Norton’s footlocker. He passes over the two Tyrell pyramids from the first film, now darkened and no doubt falling into ruin- its almost a pity that the Replicant records weren’t still stored there, it would have been an interesting place to revisit, with all the ghosts hanging around within its halls. The Wallace headquarters loom over both pyramids and city- a gigantic structure dark and mysterious, and yet, as we will soon see, incongruously full of light within, as if Wallace has control of sunlight itself. The exterior of the Wallace Headquarters is pure overkill, perhaps an indication of Wallace’s own ego- the size of this building almost appears an affront against the city below. There is a nice touch of the Pan-Am logo in a corner of the screen as we see the Wallace headquarters exterior, another reference to the first film and the alternate universe we are in- raising thoughts of the Pan-Am orbital clippers that we saw in 2001: A Space Odyssey, too.

Blade-Runner-2049-0258As K asks a Wallace filing clerk in the records library for details about the Replicant reference number he holds, and hands a piece of hair from the footlocker as corroborating DNA evidence, an alarm sounds in the earpiece belonging to Luv, somewhere else within the giant building. She has perhaps been waiting long years for this notification to alert her- a warning that someone has found a trace of Rachel. “Another prodigal serial number returns. A 30 year old open case finally closed is a curiosity and relief,” she will soon tell K, but she’s lying when she does- the open case is hardly closed, and its not a relief either. Rather, its more an opportunity for monstrous possibilities.

End of part two.