Armstrong

armArmstrong is a fascinating documentary film about the life of Neil Armstrong, the first man to walk on the moon, and is a welcome companion to Damien Chazelle’s 2018 film First Man that starred Ryan Gosling. That film was rather divisive, likely deliberately so, as it dwelt less on the space program and the mechanics of the Apollo missions and more on Armstrong himself (the film aptly summarised by Mark Kermode as ‘more inner space than outer space’). The problem for First Man was that Armstrong was always a private man, and rather kept his distance from the media, something of a cold fish to anyone outside his inner circle of family and friends. There is a very telling observation in Armstrong that ‘thank God there was no social media back then’, and this resonated with me a great deal. Can you imagine what it would be like, had the first moon landing happened in today’s world? That first man would have been eaten alive by the demands of our modern mass-media world. It was probably bad enough for Armstrong post-Apollo 11, I don’t know how he would have managed to survive something like that now- the demands of the media world today and the added hysterics of social media… it doesn’t bear thinking about. Lacking the dramatic conflicts (albeit largely fictional dramatisation) of films like Apollo 13, First Man initially seemed a cold, distant film, but having seen Armstrong, I think First Man will reward greater on repeat viewing.

Of course the tantalising thing about First Man, and of Armstrong himself, is the sense of mystery about him, because he refused to become a part of the celebrity media circus that he might have been. Part of that mystery, beyond the facts of who he was and his accomplishments, is just how do you survive something like Apollo 11? He became one of the most famous men not just alive, but in all of history- his is a name that will be remembered in the same way as the greatest kings or Pharaohs or the likes of Da Vinci, long after the rest of us, even the most famous people alive today, the musicians or actors or scientists or leaders, are long gone and forgotten.

Which is part of the dichotomy of Armstrong, because although his name will always most chiefly represent all that Apollo achieved, he himself was always clear about his sense of personal good fortune and always referenced all the work of the many thousands of people who got him to the moon. Essentially, of course, being an Astronaut was his job and while its a curious thing to look at it like that, I think it’s important too. He earned his place on Apollo 11 and was ultimately the preferred choice for the first lunar footstep- this was by merit, and he earned it. But it could as easily been someone else through some other twist of chance.

Review: ‘Armstrong’ examines the man behind the moon landingThis documentary has input from his family and freinds to inform much about Armstrong’s personal life that the public only dimly knew, and features a surprising amount of Super-8mm home movie footage of Armstrong and his family. I also found it interesting how much footage existed of Armstrong’s test-flight days- it’s odd to consider his life was being recorded so early on when its historic value would not transpire until much later. But it’s the fairly candid footage of his home life that fascinates, particularly of the 1960s and how that corresponds to its depiction in First Man, which was actually not far off the mark.

Anyone who recalls the awful voiceover on the theatrical version of Blade Runner will be amazed by the excellent narration here by Harrison Ford, who reads speeches and personal letters by Armstrong allowing us to hear the man’s thoughts and insights. Its extremely well read by Ford, infecting it with considerable nuance through pauses and inflection of voice.

On the whole I’d suggest this is a well-balanced and informative film, that tells us a great deal about the man and his achievements without falling into the trap of awe and idolising him. While to some extent Armstrong remains something of a mystery (there always seems to be something ‘unknowable’ about him, so frustrating in First Man) there is some achievement here in distancing the human being from the event that would dominate his life and his place in history.

Where I lose all my self-respect and admit to enjoying La La Land…

lal2017.55: La La Land (2016)

The cynic in me should hate this film, one of the most patronising and condescending essays on self-worth, validation and success I have ever seen, an almost religiously reverential glorification of the myth of Hollywood. A fantasy-land devoid of poverty or drugs or crime, where monsters like Harvey Weinstein never existed and scandals such as now encompassing Kevin Spacey and others never happened. Here people just want to make music, act, write, create, as if the act were enough, as if they would do it for free, as if it’s nothing to do with self-aggrandising massive egos or becoming famous or grotesquely rich. Never in La La Land is it about a $50 million paycheck, never is it about being an arsehole to everyone around you because you can afford to, or buying a luxury yacht or private jet plane or exulting in being ‘somebody’, being adored, being a ‘star’.

This isn’t the real Hollywood. This is a fantasy writ large, accentuated by it being a musical, with grand songs and dance numbers. Its an ode to the impossible myth that surely no-one buys anymore in this enlightened cynical age. La La Land is a fuzzy fable, something from some other era entirely. This film should not exist, it’s another Blade Runner 2049… wait, it even stars the same actor, Ryan Gosling. What’s going on?

Indeed, the biggest wonder that strikes me about it is that it even got made. I mean sure, Hollywood loves to make movies about itself, especially sophisticated ones like this full of lovely beautiful people living lovely beautiful lives in the lovely beautiful city of Los Angeles that doesn’t need any police or even litter bins. But a musical? Musicals haven’t ‘worked’ for years, as a genre it’s akin to the dodo, surely, or decent NIcholas Cage movies.

And yet…

lal2

And yet the dreamer in me loved it. From the slightly WTF opening sequence on the freeway to the intellectually-satisfying ending, complete with it ripping your heart out, La La Land is the ultimate guilty-secret movie. I feel dirty liking it, almost. It’s wrong, I know. I shouldn’t succumb to its charms. But I really enjoyed it, marvelled at it.

That ending seals the deal though. That last ten/fifteen minutes added a strange sense of pathos to the fluffy adventure that quite surprised me, suddenly taking a detour into Some Other Movie- I love movies that do that. You know where it’s going and you really don’t want it do that but you love it for doing it.

There is something almost irrepressible about this film for anyone who loves movies, or particularly grew up watching the old movie fantasies of the 1940s and 1950 replaying on tv during childhood, all those MGM musicals etc. Hollywood was, clearly,  never the innocent tinseltown it would like to pretend it is, its image has surely been tarnished over the years to the point at which it can be polished no more, and yet La La Land exists.

The Oscars are not about deserving people winning deserved awards, it’s about politics and money and setting up future deals and greed and narcissistic super-egos of the super-rich. The real La La Land I’m sure is a frankly horrible place that destroys many poor souls up before it pauses for breakfast. But it always throws amazing dreams onto screens with abandon, cinematic flights of fantasy that appeal to dreamers the world over. That we pour over over and over. I love movies (well, good movies, at any rate) and the creativity of the visual arts.  I mean, in the cold light of day La La Land is horrible and manipulative. But aren’t all films manipulative? The beauty of this film at least is that it recognises, in this era of muzak soundtracks, ambient scores that all sound the same, the power and importance of music in a movie, that as a tool it has been discarded in the garden shed for too long.

But anyway, I enjoyed it. Don’t punish me for it, I feel bad enough about it as it is.

The Nice Guys (2016)

nice1

2016.94: The Nice Guys (Amazon VOD)

While I really quite enjoyed this film, its clearly not as smart as it thinks it is, and its very evident that its trying awfully hard- maybe too hard. The loveliest thing in the world is a film that just ‘clicks’ with effortless ease- the perfect cast, the perfect director, the perfect script, when everything just fits its wonderful, but of course that’s also the trickiest thing to pull off, otherwise every film would be a Great Escape or Jaws. In The Nice Guys case, the shadow of Shane Black’s earlier Kiss Kiss Bang Bang looms large. Its clearly what this film aspires to be but it falls short- instead the film seems to be trying just too hard, leaving it rather unnatural and forced.

What perhaps doesn’t help is that there’s also just a wee sniff of over-familiarity with some of this film. Writer/director Shane Blacks penchant for throwing together mismatched  heroes for dramatic and comedy effect dates back to the Lethal Weapon films, Kiss Kiss Bang Bang and others, and what was once novel and interesting smells a little formulaic now. There’s also something a little ‘off’ about the characters here, particularly Ryan Gosling’s Holland March, a private detective whose investigative instincts are rather blurred by alcohol which also muddies his parental judgement. He’s a hard man to sympathise with when he seems to shirk his responsibilities whenever there’s a bottle at hand. Russell Crowe’s Jackson Healy fairs much better, a middle-aged amateur sleuth/enforcer who is going to seed with an ever-widening waistline. At least his heart (and sense of responsibility) is in the right place.His character is the center of the film, leaving Gosling to just flirt around him like an irritating jerk, with Goslings 13-year-old daughter clearly smarter than both Gosling and Crowe. Yeah, like that’s original, the kid outwitting the adults. Maybe that’s the point, I don’t know.

Set in 1977, the films production design is a real bonus, and some of the understated effects work -street scenes with billboards for Jaws 2 amongst others- is both really impressive and almost throwaway eye-candy (I guess most younger viewers are never even aware of much of the trickery at hand).There’s a great funky disco soundtrack that helps reinforce the sense of time and place, even though it feels very Boogie Nights at times (and that’s another film that seemed to effortlessly come together and do it so much better).

The plot… well, its pretty hard to fathom at the start and it doesn’t really reward the effort of deciphering it. I confess that while I was enjoying the 1970s vibe and the jokes, somehow I was a little bewildered at what was actually going on, and when everything is revealed and a few inevitable twists unfold, it ultimately doesn’t convince, so many coincidences just seem too daft for words. In the end, the  central mystery that forms the case that the Nice Guys are investigating doesn’t really hold true or drive the plot forward, leaving its episodic progression feeling uneven. Again, maybe that’s the point- maybe the case isn’t whats important.

The Nice Guys isn’t a bad film, its quite fun and will maybe get some kind of cult status someday due its leading actors, but in the end, it just doesn’t really work, it doesn’t click in quite the way that its forebears did. Maybe a Nice Guys 2 will finally crack it. Set it in the 1980s with a Miami Vice vibe maybe.

Blade Runner 2 update

br2Well its been a few months, time for another update before I close the curtains and hide from the outside world to avoid any real spoilers. Most details are being kept refreshingly secret (and I hope it stays that way for several months to come), but there’s been a bit more news of late about Blade Runner 2 (still lacking an official title), currently in production in Hungary. In production– I confess it seems so weird, thinking that a sequel to Blade Runner is currently being shot. I’m certain that watching this film next October will be the most surreal experience of my life- its like reality has taken some weird twist into a distorted dreamland. But yeah, its in production, its real.

A little while ago we got a few examples of pre-production art that infers the film will maintain the tone of the original film, such as is in the image above. I was surprised by this as I had assumed the film, set decades after the 2019-set original, would have its own ‘look’ and feel- I almost expected them to go the Minority Report route visually and maybe they will, but that image above does look very Blade Runner.

As the film is shooting there have been more cast details, most recently news of Jared Leto being a late addition. I quite like Leto onscreen but he has a weird rep behind the scenes that is a little disconcerting. Other additions include Dave Bautista, Sylvia Hoeks, Barkhad Abdi, Ana de Armas, Carla Juri and Lennie James. Seems a pretty solid cast is being brought together, multicultural and quite European (as the original was shot in Hollywood it was mostly an American cast). They join the already announced Harrison Ford, Ryan Gosling, Robin Wright and Mackenzie Davis.

Mackenzie Davis has been speaking a little about the project. Regards the original, she says that “…it’s been my favourite movie for as long as I can remember… I can’t believe I get to be a part of it. (Villeneuve’s) enthusiasm and love for it has made the whole thing so exciting. I had friends from university who called me when the news first came out saying, ‘It’s so crazy, you had been talking about this when we were 19 that if ever a Blade Runner sequel came out it would be your dream job.’ And then it happened. It’s truly insane to me.” I guess it’s another reminder of how influential the original has been amongst the film community over the decades, no matter how it flopped back in 1982.

Vangelis, who has his first album for several years out next month, is definitely not involved this time around. As widely expected, it has been confirmed that Jóhann Jóhannsson has signed on to write the score. Oddly enough, like Vangelis,  Jóhannsson has a solo album being released next month (Orphee, which sounds great by the way from what I’ve heard of it). While publicising Orphee,  Jóhannsson has made a few comments about Blade Runner 2.

He has revealed he has visited the set and already started working on the score, and like Mackenzie Davis is a big fan of the original. “I saw [Blade Runner] when I was 13, the year it came out, and it had a huge effect on me. I was already a big fan of Philip K. Dick’s novels, so I knew the original. Obviously the film is very different from the book, but I was a huge fan from day one and it’s a film that’s hugely important to me in terms of both being a visual masterpiece – this amazing world that Ridley Scott and his team created – and also in terms of the music and the sound design, which is tremendously strong and which was very memorable at the time when I saw it. This is true of many people of my generation who experienced that film, it had a deep impact on them.”

Arrival,_Movie_Poster“Denis I tend to start very early in his process,” he says of scoring films. “I start working on the music when he starts prepping the film. When he starts shooting I’ve usually started collecting material and putting together ideas and starting the process of finding the sound of the film. This is a long process that can take many months and I like to start early in order to send things to Denis while he’s filming.” Jóhannsson has also scored Villeneuve’s sci-fi film  Arrival, which is released in November. Arrival (previously Story of Your Life) is a fascinating prospect- it will be so interesting to see how Villeneuve handles a genre film with his Blade Runner 2 on the horizon. Which raises the thought- can you even imagine the pressure he must be feeling?

The most recent news concerning Blade Runner 2 was actually something tragic and a reminder of all those people behind productions that usually never hit the headlines- a construction worker has been killed whilst dismantling a set on which production had been completed at Budapest’s Origo Studios. A statement by Alcon Entertainment stated that he was a local employed by a subcontractor to dismantle the set, he wasn’t a member of the film-crew and production has continued, having already moved on to the village of Etyek in Hungary where they were filming at the time of the accident.

So how long can the secrecy hold? How long before the marketing department get loose of their chains and start dropping set photos and teaser trailers out? I guess that will be when I try to stop thinking about the film and start actively avoiding any details. Or do I just give up avoiding those details, will it even be possible? I rather like it how things are now. It’s nice knowing the production has a great director, a fine cast and a backroom staff that seem to have a handle on the project and how important it is, but it’s also nice not knowing any further details, like the plot or what characters the cast are playing. Blade Runner 2 may be a project many of us Blade Runner fans never expected or really wanted, but at the moment it could be all things; great, horrible, brilliant. It could be anything.

The Big Short (2015)

big1.jpg2016.65: The Big Short (Amazon VOD)

The world is a cesspit of lies and corruption, fraud and criminal activity in the financial markets aided and abetted by the political elite who themselves profit from the status quo, and the governing bodies that instead of policing the system sit back and allow things to spiral into financial apocalypse. It sounds like an over-the-top Oliver Stone movie, but instead its the premise of The Big Short, a riveting film that has the form of a factual comedy drama akin to The Wolf of Wall Street but is in reality more of a horror movie.

I can’t say I understood much of it, no matter how often the film breaks the fourth wall to stop and explain in layman’s terms the terminology (mortgage bonds, collateralised debt obligations and credit default swaps) being used by the bankers and investors in the film. Maybe that’s the point- in the film, it’s alleged that even the bankers themselves didn’t really understand what was going on, they just thought the party would never end. It is all smoke and mirrors, tricks and lies. Maybe it would make more sense on second viewing but I must confess there were a few moments it all seemed to be going way over my head. As it is, it remains a thrilling, fascinating ride that is all the more terrifying because it is all based on recent events that we all witnessed and to some extent have suffered by.

The strong cast (Christian Bale, Brad Pitt, Steve Carell, Ryan Gosling) are all great and no doubt their names attract viewers who wouldn’t ordinarily be interested in a tragi-comedy about financial collapse. Maybe a more serious, 1970’s-style investigative drama like Spotlight would have served to make a more daunting film- instead this comedy is more about the elite partying into the apocalypse with our protagonists caught in the chaos and disorder, our witnesses and conscience (at least Carell’s character- Carell is brilliant as the Worlds Angry Man left mutely stunned when he discovers he was right all along).

One of my problems with The Wolf of Wall Street was chiefly that, entertaining as Scorsese made its tale of excess and corruption in Wall Street, there wasn’t enough of a reality-check; coverage of the real losers in its tale of financial whizzkids getting rich at the expense of others. He seemed to be fascinated by the big houses, fast cars and beautiful women- yeah, the exciting and entertaining stuff, sure, but I just thought he owed us more social commentary, more balance. I think we get that in The Big Short because as the apocalypse looms it is clear who is really going to suffer- and it isn’t those engineering the global meltdown. At the end of the film there is a depressing summary of what happened post-meltdown, who was held accountable and what has been done to ensure it cannot happen again (in America at least). Pretty much no-one and nothing, it seems.

Let’s just hope we don’t get a sequel in ten/twenty years time.

Some Blade Runner 2 Trivia

Blade Runner 2 is now scheduled for release October 2017 (bumped up from its original January 2018 slot) so we really are closing in on something that was once either incredibly unlikely or even impossible. Just to make things a little weirder, Ridley Scott’s Alien prequel, Alien: Covenant, is due out in August 2017. Its enough to freak me out.

Here’s something interesting I stumbled upon whilst looking up the latest Denis Villeneuve/ Blade Runner 2 news on the ‘net and trying to avoid the clickbait. Someone on the IMDB message-board was asking what’s the longest stretch of time between a film and a sequel being made. Blade Runner was released in 1982, and the (untitled) Blade Runner 2 film is set for 2017, which is a gap of 35 years. Some examples of other long gaps the poster mentioned are The Hustler (1961) and The Colour of Money (1986) = 25 years,  Psycho (1960) and  Psycho II (1983) = 23 years, The Godfather Part II (1974) and  The Godfather Part III (1990) = 16 years.

There are likely other examples, but a responding poster noted there is a Brazilian horror -film franchise with a longer gap;  This Night I’ll Possess Your Corpse (1967)/ Embodiment of Evil (2008).  But I think there may be a case for Blade Runner taking the prize for a Hollywood film series. One I can think of is The Odd Couple (1968) and The Odd Couple II (1998) which is close at 30 years, but still short of the Blade Runner gap. Maybe someone reading this will be able to think of something obvious that I’ve missed.

Blade Runner 2 is scheduled to start filming next month (I’ve read it starts shooting in Budapest but don’t know how true that is, like everything else, much about this film -including its proper title- is a mystery). But yeah, we do know it starts shooting in July. The more I think about that… its really weird. I guess all the design work is done, the sets are being built now, costumes are getting ready… it messes with your head, thinking about it. Imagine what it will be like when the first set photos get released or the first teaser trailer in six months. I guess it won’t be long before some of the secrecy gets lifted a little, at the moment it feels like the lull before the storm. Anything is possible right now.

On the whole  everything seems promising, and as someone who was critical of a sequel at first, I’m currently quite looking forward to it. Up to now everything I have read about it seems positive. News has been scant about the film other than updates on the cast, which is looking as impressive as the film’s backroom talent – Ryan Gosling and Robin Wright were confirmed awhile ago, but more recently Dave Bautista (Guardians of the Galaxy, Spectre) and Mackenzie Davis (The Martian) have been added to the roster, as well as some names less familiar to me- Carla Juri, Sylvia Hoeks and Ana de Armas, which already indicates the film has more women’s roles than the first film featured. God only knows what that means.  But Mackenzie Davis in the picture below looking very Pris-like is an unnerving coincidence…

Mackenzie Davies, looking rather like Pris here...

Funnily enough Denis Villeneuve has another film due out this year, and it’s a sci-fi film too- Story Of Your Life is based on an acclaimed short story of the same name by Ted Chiang (note there is a rumour going around that the film’s title has now changed to Arrival).  The film stars Amy Adams, Jeremy Renner and Forest Whitaker, and concerns aliens arriving on Earth and the military recruiting an expert linguist to determine whether the aliens come in peace or are a threat. I’ve avoided reading the original story so know little more than that, other than its serious science-fiction inferring the film is firmly in the CE3K camp of First Contact rather than that of  Independance Day. In anycase, its Villeneuve’s first genre entry and so will be very interesting to see prior to his Blade Runner 2.

Of course one of the questions fans have about the new film concerns the music and whether Vangelis will be involved, and this has yet to be resolved. I rather suspect Vangelis won’t be composing the films score. Villeneuve usually has Johann Johannsson composing the scores for his films and I expect the same to apply here- which is good, as having a creative team familiar with each other always bodes well for a project. Nothing has been announced yet, but Johannson stated “Back in the studio working on a very special project to come in the next year.” on Facebook which has his fans already wondering, but he has signed a new album deal so it is likely something for that or some other film project. It certainly feels too soon for work on the Blade Runner 2 score, unless he is preparing some source music for on-set use (i.e. background music for in a bar or something). Who knows?

 

Do Androids Dream of Blade Runner 2?

br2aI was a sceptic. I didn’t want a Blade Runner 2. I thought it was a bad idea and a cynical attempt to capitalise on both the success of the Final Cut release and, following its long road from box-office and critical failure in 1982, its eventual reappraisal as a classic. I felt justified, as a fan of the film since I saw it in September 1982 who witnessed its fall into obscurity and later eventual rebirth, to voice my opinion that the world didn’t need a Blade Runner 2. Leave it alone. But slowly as news has developed about the BR2 project, I’m becoming, much to my own surprise, a Believer. Ridley, you old bastard, you’ve got me converted. But can you pull it off?

(God, I’d love to sit down with Ridley just for an hour…! Seriously, I don’t consider myself a geek but as an original fan of the film (it’s been my favourite film ever since it blew me away back on that September afternoon and I’ve championed it ever since) I feel almost entitled to feel a sort of ‘ownership’ of it (ridiculous I know). I love the film,damn it. Just to sit down with Ridley and get some idea of where he’s going with it. I don’t want it spoiled, I really don’t even want to know anything detailed about the script, but.. but Ridley.. where are you going with it. It feels like that scene in Marathon Man– with me asking him,  is it safe?)

Back in December last year I wrote regards the confirmation that Blade Runner 2 looked to be inevitable, and over the last several months pieces of information have come to light about the project, and I think its a good time to sum up some of those developments, particularly following the press interviews for Ridley Scott’s latest film The Martian, during which Scott has been a bit more candid about the project.

br2bSo what do we know? Well, the script was developed by Ridley Scott with original writer Hamption Fancher. So that has to be taken as a good start, with a cautionary note that some of the best moments of the original script were attributed to the rewrite by David Peoples, who has no involvement at all with BR2. But yeah, if you had to name the original ‘parents’ of Blade Runner (considering it as a wholly independent entity to Philip K Dicks original novel) then it would be Fancher and Scott. So the lineage is there. And by all accounts the script for BR2 is very good. Following recent reveals by Scott, it’s apparent that the film is set some decades after the original. Ryan Gosling is apparently signed-on to star and his age seems to have some impact on the exact date, with Scott suggesting 2037 or 2040. There are inevitable invitations to wild speculation here- perhaps Gosling’s character is a child of Deckard and Rachel (which is a bit of a stretch considering Rachel was a Replicant and possibly even Deckard too), or, perhaps more likely, he’s a contemporary Blade Runner who in his duties has to track down Deckard (who went on the run with Rachel at the end of the original film). Scott has already said that Harrison Ford, although he has signed on to the film, will not feature largely in it;  “...we…came up with a pretty strong three-act storyline, and it all makes sense in terms of how it relates to the first one. Harrison is very much a part of this one, but it’s really about finding him; he comes in in the third act“. So it would seem safe to assume the date the film is set is largely due to Ford’s real age/the aging of him over the years since 1982. I don’t know where that leaves the debate about his character being a Replicant or not; do Replicants age? Maybe Deckard was a Nexus 7 or something, no set termination date, built to age naturally. I wonder if Tyrell has any part to play in this movie. Hell, its like falling into the rabbit hole thinking too much about BR2.

Ryan Gosling by the way seems a particularly fine piece of casting. He’s one of the few modern-day male actors who can emote visually rather than through dialogue, and has a silent real-world/tough guy presence much like Ford had back in his Raiders/Blade Runner prime or the likes of old-style Hollywood leads like Steve McQueen. I’ve enjoyed his work in films like Drive and The Place Beyond the Pines and I think he could carry a BR2 movie, it seems a natural progression for him.

br2eConfirmation came that Ridley wasn’t going to direct BR2. Firstly, I have to admit that the director appointed to the film, Denis Villeneuve, was someone unknown to me when the news broke that it would be him helming the film rather than Ridley Scott, who was stepping back into a producer’s role. To be honest, I felt relieved about Ridley stepping back, it was likely a difficult decision for Ridley to make as Blade Runner is possibly his most personal film, and the film he is most famous for. It must have been so tempting to shoot BR2 himself, but the pressure… the expectation… I think the experience of making Prometheus and all the hype it received, and yes, much of the flack after release…. I expect it had much to do with Ridley’s decision,  I do think it was the right thing to do. If the sequel gets screwed up, at least he can say it wasn’t down to him, and his original will always stand for itself.

director Denis VilleneuveSo anyway, curious about the choice of (the unknown to me) Denis Villeneuve, I streamed Villeneuve’s most recently-released film, Prisoners, and was hugely impressed by it. Its a very, very good film, a tense and brutal thriller, technically very accomplished but also blessed with great performances from its actors. It also looks incredible, with beautiful photography by famed English cinematographer Roger Deakins (some of the night photography in the rain, lit by neon and torchlight had obvious connotations with Blade Runner), When news broke that Deakins, who seems to have a great rapport with Villeneuve, had also signed on to work on BR2, well by that point I was getting excited. A talented director and one of the most accomplished cinematographers, working on BR2? Hell yeah. We have  great script, a great leading man, the return of Ford, Ridley overseeing production, a gifted director who is a big fan of the original, and a fantastic cinematographer. It’s all looking good. Villeneuve’s latest film Sicario has been getting great reviews too. He’s looking to be an excellent choice.

They aren’t racing to get it done either. No release date seems to have been set, with filming arranged late last year for summer of 2016 you’d have to expect a release date in late 2017, maybe mid-2018 depending on how long post takes (2019 would be a perfect date for obvious reasons but lets not wait that long!). The shooting date may well have been dictated by the appointment of Villeneuve, who had Sicario in progress and has just finished shooting another film after that- his schedule now apparently cleared up, BR2 awaits. I think its healthy to have a long pre-production for these kinds of film anyway. Too many films race into production and suffer for it.
br2fRegards the music, well, Vangelis’ score was such an integral part of Blade Runner, it was like another character. Fans may have anticipated a return for the synth maestro but I would imagine that’s now very unlikely, particularly as Ridley has stepped back from directing. Just as Villeneuve has a continuing professional relationship with cinematographer Deakins, he also seems to have a partnership with Icelandic composer Johann Johannsson, who composed the scores for both Prisoners and Sicario. Johannsson is himself a rising star in the business (he recently also scored The Theory of Everything). He comes from a experimental/classical background and I was already familiar with his work prior to him moving into film scoring. His works IBM 1401: A Users Manual and Fordlandia are wonderful pieces of modern classical composition (check them out on Youtube), and I expect he’ll be announced as the composer for BR2. This would be a great choice and reassuring has he already has a history of working with Villeneuve. It will be interesting to see if he references the Vangelis score or makes it a wholly original composition- if the latter, then it will further position the film as more its own thing.

In September Variety spoke to Roger Deakins about Blade Runner 2. “..there’s a lot of anticipation, which is interesting. I mean I love the original but I’m surprised at how much interest there is when the original actually wasn’t commercially very successful and wasn’t critically very successful as well. So that tells you a lot about a movie’s staying power… .” Referring to the style and ‘look’ that the original has, Deakins was asked if they intended to replicate (sic) it in the sequel. ” I remember distinctly when it came out and how strong that look was when compared with other movies that were around at the time. We’ve had little conversations. I mean the film we’re going to do is going to stand by itself but it’s obviously the same world 30 years on. I mean but it doesn’t have to look the same. Thirty years on we can do anything we want, really.”

I certainly welcome this approach. I think its great that they seem to be referencing the original but are keen to distance themselves from it, likely conscious that they must visually do their own thing and give the sequel its own identity. Unfortunately the realities of modern film-making seem to have been hinted at in an interview shortly after, in which Deakins commented he would soon be working with (director) Villeneuve on a film that would be converted to 3D (evidently a reference to BR2); “…I’m not even into 3D actually… I’ve been offered it. I just don’t want to… (it will) be made into 3D eventually, but it won’t be shot in 3D.” Thank goodness the film will be at least shot in 2D. I can take (and ignore) a 3D conversion, but if it’s shot in 2D there won’t be too many of those irritating ‘pop-out’ moments in the film.

As he wraps up his other projects and turns towards BR2, he is naturally reticent to go into any specifics, but Villeneuve has started to comment on his own thoughts approaching the project; “I’m totally aware of the huge challenge. It’s a risk I know that every single fan who walks into the theater will walk in with a baseball bat. I’m aware of that and I respect that, and it’s okay with me because it’s art. Art is risk, and I have to take risks. It’s gonna be the biggest risk of my life but I’m okay with that. For me it’s very exciting; it’s just so inspiring, I’m so inspired. I’ve been dreaming to do sci-fi since I was 10 years old, and I said ‘no’ to a lot of sequels. I couldn’t say ‘no’ to Blade Runner. I love it to much, so I said, ‘Alright fuck it, I will do it and give everything I have to make it great.’”

You know, I think he gets it.

But what will BR2 be called? The Independent newspaper here in the UK recently ran a story about domain names being registered by Warner Bros.; bladerunnerandroidsdream.com and androidsdreammovie.com, with natural ensuing speculation that the film may be titled Blade Runner:Androids Dream or just simply Androids Dream. While such a title may well nod back to the original PKD novel Do Androids Dream of Electric Sleep, in the movie the term ‘Androids’ was replaced by ‘Replicants’ so I’m not sure how probable those choices are. Likely they are domain names for the films official websites but I don’t imagine the film will be titled like that. Personally I always rather liked one of the original titles the original film had before Blade Runner was chosen- Dangerous Days.  So some variant like Blade Runner: Dangerous Days seems ok to me. But obviously extremely unlikely! We’ll see.

If I had the opportunity to speak to them, my message to the makers of BR2 would be this: please, be honest to the original. Don’t pander to the fans, don’t think about what we want, but please, just be certain you are maintaining the integrity of the original. Go do something new. Blow us away, just like Ridley and his team did back in 1982. And please for Gods sake don’t consider the word ‘Franchise’; don’t make this film with an eye to a Blade Runner 3. Make it a single experience with a beginning, middle and an end. Maybe a third film will follow, I guess it has to be a consideration, its a part of the industry thinking these days but don’t make that integral to the second film. Just go and make a great film, no sequel thinking attached. That worked for Blade Runner after all. Just make it good.

Well. Lets give it several more months and see what happens…one thought does spring to mind, though: when the first teaser gets released… dare I even watch it?

Only God Forgives (2013)

ogf1Only God Forgives is either a brooding masterpiece or a pretentious calamity, I’m not sure which- or maybe it’s both.  I recall news from its premier in Cannes of people walking out mid-movie (I don ‘t know if it was true or not but having watched it I can understand it if people did walk). Some reviews from Cannes declared it a masterpiece and others derided it as meaningless nonsense,  so it even split that crowd, which takes some doing . For myself, well, I guess I’m split down the middle with this one after my first viewing- in its defence, it’s certainly the kind of film that demands a revisit in order to really be sure of ‘getting’ it. But whether films really should need that second viewing at all is another matter entirely.

Its a valid argument that Only God Forgives suffers from following on from Nicolas Winding Refn’s previous film, Drive, which also starred Ryan Gosling, if only because Drive proved so popular with a mainstream which Only God Forgives seems hell-bent on now alienating, and its fascinating to compare the two films. Drive was a stylish, powerfully effective thriller that remains one of my favourite films of the last decade. It was an arthouse movie dressed up as a standard Hollywood thriller, oozing style and cinematic magic.  It looked utterly beautiful, sounded beautiful, but beyond that surface gloss had a great story, great acting and some hidden depth.

Indeed in many ways Only God Forgives is an anti-Drive, which was likely a concious decision on Refn’s part (whether that was brave or foolish though is debatable). Even people who didn’t rate Drive would admit to it at least having had a coherent plot, whereas that can’t be necessarily said of Only God Forgives even by its fans. While  Drive had layers of subtext and melancholy, Only God Forgives is drenched in doom and despair, plot and subtext replaced either by enigmatic mystery or awful storytelling (depending on how much slack you’re willing to cut it). It lack’s Drive‘s substance, its character arcs replaced by a rather incoherent series of events that may or may not even be related, for reasons that are never clear, with hardly any sense of purpose or than to infuriate and confuse. It may be a great movie, it may be great art, it may be utter bollocks. I have an inclination to lean towards the latter as I disliked Refn’s earlier film Valhalla Rising for being pretentious bad storytelling but after Drive I’m prepared to cut Refn some slack.

ogf3So, where to begin? Lets look at what at least appears to be happening.  We are in Bangkok. Julian (Gosling) runs a boxing club with his brother Billy, but the club is a front for a drugs operation.  After a drunken night out searching for an under-age prostitute, Billy is found having raped and killed a sixteen year old prostitute, and is then murdered by the girl’s father under the allowance/encouragement of the corrupt police and its mysterious karaoke-singing Captain Chang (Vithaya Pansringarm). Soon after Julian’s mother (an unrecognisable but scene-stealing Kristin Scott Thomas) arrives in Bangkok demanding bloody revenge on all those responsible.

Its easy to understand why that’s how the marketing sold the film (and thus alienated many eventual audiences afterwards). Because that isn’t necessarily what the film is really about.

Consider this alternative view. We are, literally, in Hell. All who dwell here are guilty of terrible crimes and misdeeds, deserving of punishment and/or begging for atonement, lingering in this neon-drenched Bangkok. Julian runs a boxing club with his brother Billy as a front for a drugs operation. We will eventually learn that both suffered from an abusive mother who likely had incestuous affairs with both of them- indeed Julian killed his own father due to his own feelings of jealousy and guilt (Julian in particular is obsessed with this guilt, literally seeing blood on his hands that he cannot wash away). Both boys are in Hell for their past lives and are looking for a way out, Billy taking the first and simplest opportunity. Billy actually states he is ‘going to meet the Devil’ and goes out, a night of violence culminating in the rape and murder of a Thai prostitute, after which he simply waits for the police to turn up, awaiting his punishment. Like Hell’s own footsoldiers, the police dutifully arrive, and the police captain like an Archangel of Death (or the Devil, or even, dare I say it, God Himself) pronounces judgement on Billy who, strangely, does not attempt to escape or fight back, simply allowing the dead girl’s father to beat him to a bloody death. Chang follows this with judgement on the dead girls own father for allowing his daughters to fall into prostitution, before retiring to a nightclub to relax singing at a karaoke (raising the bizarre question,  does God relax from His labours by becoming a karaoke?). Soon after, Julian’s mother Crystal arrives in this Purgatory declaring that the reprehensible, drug-dealing rapist Billy was actually her favourite, demanding bloody revenge on those who took her favoured son away from her whilst demeaning Julian at every opportunity,  particularly in front of Julian’s girlfriend to whom she criticises Julian’s manhood comparing it to Billy’s.  Cheerful movie this decidedly isn’t.

ogf2

So what’s the film really about? What’s actually going on? After just this one viewing I cannot possibly say. Clearly I need to follow up my 2014 Hitlist with ‘A List Of Films I Need To See Again’, and put this at the top of the list. On the plus side, it looks astonishing in HD, and has an utterly mesmerising Cliff Martinez score. But its hard to say whether there’s a really good film here buried under the apparent subtext (ala Mullholland Drive, say)or if its just really bad storytelling. My ‘view’ of what the film may be about might just be my imagination apologising for the films faults, in much the same way my ideas about Gravity’s final third may just be me excusing that film  for the many ‘conveniences’ riddling it.  Sure, Only God Forgives certainly looks gorgeous but so many films do these days, and I particularly dislike films that are all style over content. Well, we’ll have to wait and see.

Returning to Drive

drivebluFinally got around to re-watching Nicolas Winding Refn’s Drive the other night. It’s a film I saw on rental last year which I enjoyed so much an eventual Blu-ray purchase was inevitable.

The film is the very epitome of cool. The retro-synth soundtrack is gorgeous, something that, with the neon-drenched visuals, instantly evokes memories of the days when Miami Vice was the coolest show on television. Drive is a film-noir/pulp fantasy of a Mysterious Stranger who befriends and protects a troubled family beset by hostile forces; a plot familiar to anyone who has seen the Leone/Eastwood westerns of the ‘sixties.  Indeed there is a lot of Clint Eastwood’s early screen persona of cool, silent wrath in Ryan Gosling’s performance. Of course the story here is set in a modern metropolis, the horses replaced by cars, but its cinematic roots are clear.  Throw in all manner of further references to Walter Hill’s The Driver, or Michael Mann’s Heat, or the shocking moments of violence of Martin Scorcese’s Taxi Driver, and you have a film that is quite mesmerising.  It isn’t a gangster movie, or a car-racing movie, or a love story, or a crime thriller… and yet it is all those things and more. Watching it again after so many months, I was surprised how sophisticated,  and yet at the same time simple, the whole thing is. So much is told in the long silences, its a truly cinematic movie. Its one of those movies that you just don’t want to end,  and when it does, you want a sequel… and yet you don’t. It’s perfect as it is, and too many good films have been spoiled by sequels.

Ryan Gosling is remarkable in exuding heroic cool, and while he may seem a bit too pretty to be real (something true of too many male actors these days), his glacier-like face is well served by those emotive eyes. Carey Mulligan does well as his love-interest and the unwitting catalyst of all that unfolds. The supporting cast is excellent- Ron Perlman may be the main bad-guy of the film but it is his partner, played by Albert Brooks, who is the real surprise to me.  Played with an icy,  devastatingly business-like attitude to doing what simply has to be done, regardless of how morally wrong it may be, his character is a thing of modern urban nightmare.

Refn has a new film out soon, Only God Forgives, in which he has again teamed up with Ryan Gosling. The trailer looks electrifying. I can hardly wait.