Ryan Gosling

Blade Runner 2049

 

 

05/10/17

The original Blade Runner (1982) is widely regarded as a classic of the sci fi genre. People forget that on its release, it didn’t receive much acclaim. The critics were distinctly sniffy about it and, for that matter, it didn’t exactly pack out the multiplexes. But, over the intervening years, its stature has grown, especially as original director Ridley Scott couldn’t seem to stop tinkering with it. This must surely be the only film where the Director’s Cut is actually shorter than the theatrical release?

When the news broke that there would be a sequel – and furthermore, that Scott would only be producing, rather than directing, expectations plummeted. But the appointment of Denis Villeneauve to the director’s seat definitely helped to bolster confidence; (his Arrival was one of the most acclaimed films of last year) and besides, Scott’s recent return to another of his franchises, with Alien Covenant, hadn’t exactly been the massive success everybody had predicted. Maybe it was the right thing to go forward with a new hand on the helm. Then the advance reviews for Blade Runner 2049 broke and it was, apparently, a masterpiece, a jaw-dropping work of staggering genius. The truth of course, is that it isn’t quite that, but it is an assured and credible sequel to the original film, which is pretty much all we could have hoped for.

It’s thirty years since the events of Blade Runner and a new generation of replicants – ones that are supposedly incapable of insurrection, are now taking on the work that humans disdain, including hunting down and ‘retiring’ the last remaining Nexus 6 models, who are still insisting on going about their business. ‘K’ (Ryan Gosling) is one of the new breed of ‘skin job’, working as a Blade Runner for the LAPD, under the direction of Lieutenant Joshi (Robin Wright). While hunting down renegade replicant Sapper Morten (Dave Bautista), K makes an unexpected discovery. Buried in a box beneath one of the world’s last surviving trees, are the remains of a woman. The pathology department soon establishes that she died in childbirth. The problem is, a serial number hidden in her bones identifies her as a replicant. And replicants are supposedly incapable of procreation. This is news that threatens to have world-changing repercussions and one, when you think about it, that is the basis for most religions.

If Villeneauve’s brief was to mirror the look and feel of the original movie, then this has to be regarded as a success. The squalid grandeur of the cityscapes are breathtakingly realised, the recreation of a smog laden, overcrowded dystopian Los Angeles is perfectly achieved – even Hans Zimmer’s eerie score manages to echo the feel of the Vangelis original while still somehow managing to be its own beast. The references to the first story are all cleverly integrated. Nothing ever feels tacked on.

But this is more than just an accomplished rehash. I particularly liked the concept of Joi (Ama de Armas), K’s virtual reality companion, which gives you an idea of where the likes of Siri and Alexa are eventually going to wind up. A VR creation capable of feeling love for its owner? This element is the film’s strongest card, (and a scene where Joi ‘borrows’ the body of another woman in order to make love to K is a standout); but there are plenty of other thought-provoking ideas in here, much more than the usual cartoonish ones we’ve become used to in this genre. They will have you discussing their implications long after the credits have rolled.

What exactly does it mean to be human? How important are memories to our evolution and to what degree can we trust them? And perhaps, most baffling of all… why does Harrison Ford never seem to get any older?

Okay, so the film isn’t quite perfect. Jared Leto’s Niander Wallace  – the man who has inherited and improved upon the Tyrell Corporation’s achievements – is a bit wearisome, to tell you the truth, given to intoning his lines like an Old Testament prophet; and while I appreciate that there must be fight scenes in a film like this, the climactic punch up between K and a supercharged female adversary seems to go on for just about forever. But the ending is cool. I really didn’t see that coming…

Inevitably, arguments will rage about this one. Some people are going to hate it. Some are going to insist that it’s way better than the original. But for me that will always be a solid gold five star picture, while this one? Close, but no cigar. Maybe just a slim panetella.

4.6 stars

Philip Caveney

 

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La La Land

08/01/17

Remember movie musicals? You know, the big sweeping MGM-style pictures, the kind they really don’t make any more? Well, clearly nobody told director Damien Chazelle, because, apart from a few subtle nods to the modern age, that’s pretty much what he gives us here. Apparently this is a long-cherished project for him, one that predates Whiplash, the picture that first propelled him into the public eye. Essentially, La La Land is a great big glittering love letter to LA and the creative industries that serve it.

The opening sequence pretty much sets out Chazelle’s stall. There’s a freeway full of gridlocked traffic. A girl in  a car begins to sing a song. She gets out of the car and dances a few steps and then the guy in the next car steps out and joins her. Pretty soon, hundreds of people are following their example, offering a brilliantly choreographed routine that is as audacious as it is delightful. It’s a wonderful start.

Soon we meet our protagonists and wouldn’t you know it, at first they hate each other on sight. Sebastian (Ryan Gosling) is a musician, a jazz obsessive who dreams of opening his own club. Mia (Emma Stone) is a would-be actress, a barista by day, who slogs hopefully through an endless series of auditions for roles she appears to have no real chance of attaining. After their initial conflict, the two start to strike sparks off each other. And before too long, of course, they’re hoofing up a storm and singing most of their dialogue.

And if there’s a bit of this film that isn’t fully realised, it’s the songs. Don’t get me wrong, the jazz-inflected score is strong, yes, but the so-called big numbers aren’t exactly memorable. It says a lot when the tune you come out humming is the Flock of Seagulls song, that’s only there as an example of ‘bad pop’ by the cover band in which Sebastian is forced to play in order to pay his rent. And while you might be able to recall one of the film’s original melodies, chances are that the lyrics will escape you. But look, that seems an almost churlish observation in the midst of so much invention, so much undoubted chutzpah.The cinematography is ravishing and the film simply bristles with invention.

There are echoes here of some of the great movie musicals: A Star Is Born, An American in Paris… and then there are other scenes that are refreshingly original. Stone is particularly good, especially in an early scene where she auditions for a character receiving bad news over the phone and you feel like shouting at the casting directors who aren’t taking enough notice of her!

Of course, these kind of movies traditionally have a happy ending and I have to applaud Chazelle for resisting that temptation, even if the alternative he offers may be a cleverly devised way of him having his cake and eating it.

But what a cake! Delicious, delightful and ultimately satisfying. If you miss those old-time musicals, this one is undoubtedly for you.

4.8 stars

Philip Caveney

 

The Nice Guys

2629

12/06/16

Shane Black is an interesting fellow. A former screenwriter who’s status went meteoric after the runaway success of the Lethal Weapon franchise, his career went into the doldrums after later multi-million dollar scripts failed to put bums on seats in enough numbers to earn back the huge advances. But in 2005, his first film as  director, Kiss Kiss Bang Bang earned his some much-needed brownie points (at least from the critics, even if it didn’t pull in huge crowds)  and his subsequent helming of Iron Man 3 made him, once again, a bankable name, a big hitter.

So, he has the chance to start over and here’s The Nice Guys, which has all the classic Shane Black tropes: essentially a buddie movie, it features two mismatched characters bumbling their way through a complicated plot, milking some genuine big laughs along the way and pausing every so often for a insanely high-powered, ultra violent action sequence. Throw in the evocative 70s setting and this is everything that Inherent Vice could have been if it had bothered to incorporate a decent plot.

Jackson Healy (Russell Crowe) is a former cop, now fallen on hard times and reduced to beating up people for a living, something he does to the very best of his ability. One such person is Holland Marsh (Ryan Gosling) possibly the world’s most inept Private Detective, but when it transpires that both men are involved in looking for the same missing person, a young runaway who has recently been linked to the tragic death of infamous porn star, Misty Mountains, it seems expedient to join forces and pool their ‘expertise.’ Sadly, this is something that’s in rather short supply, but luckily Marsh’s precocious teenage daughter Holly (an appealing performance by Angourie Rice) has enough chutzpah to help them through. As the plot unfolds it transpires that there’s a conspiracy at the heart of the story that goes all the way to the top of the slippery pole.

Crowe and Gosling make an appealing double act. Gosling is particularly good, wringing every last drop out of his assured comic performance, (this is a man who can’t break a window without severing a major vein) while Crowe is, for once, actually rather likeable as a bluff, hard-hitting guy with anger management issues. While you could argue that the film is essentially a big piece of fluff, what fabulously accomplished fluff it is! It breezes effortlessly through its 116 minutes running time and actually leaves you wanting more. A coda suggests that there could be a second adventure for these two and on the form of this one, I’d say that’s a decent suggestion.

You’ll come out relishing some of Marsh’s more idiotic lines. A particular favourite? ‘Yeah, well you know who else was ‘just following orders?’ Hitler!’

Priceless.

4.4 stars

Philip Caveney

The Big Short

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31/01/15

Another day, another Oscar nominated film. The Big Short appears to be a lot of people’s favourite to lift the best movie gong this year and it’s certainly accomplished. It takes a long hard look at one of the most shameful periods of recent American history – the years leading up to the American housing crisis and the subsequent crash of Wall Street’s biggest banks. More specifically, it homes in those individuals who saw the crash coming and made millions by betting that it would happen.

The first person to spot the looming bubble is Michael Burry (Christian Bale) an autistic Capital Hedge Fund Manager, who invests heavily on what he believes is a certainty. Others soon follow suit, including Mark Baum (Steve Carell) whose own self-loathing makes it difficult for him to exploit the opportunity, but he does it anyway, mostly at the behest of wheeler-dealer Jared Vennett (Ryan Gosling). There’s even a couple of enterprising kids who want to have a punt and who call on ex-trader Ben Rickert (Brad Pitt) to get them into the game. The witty script does a great job of explaining complicated (and it must be said, quite boring) financial manoeuvres in a way that everyone can understand and I liked the way that characters often break off in mid conversation, in order to talk directly to the camera. But if there’s a major problem with the film, it’s this – it’s very hard to root for characters who are self-serving assholes looking to make their fortunes from the misfortunes of ordinary people. OK, I appreciate these are the nearest to ‘good guys’ we’ll find in this story, but they only seem reasonable because the bankers they’re up against are so utterly and irredeemably despicable. And if that concept rankles, then this may not be the film for you.

When the crash eventually comes, the fallout is terrible, but even worse is the fact that the guilty parties don’t go to gaol, as they clearly should, but instead pay themselves massive bonuses and then look for other ways to exploit their customers. The Big Short is doubtless an important film and one that hits its intended targets with ease, but it’s also a hard film to like. For the big prize, I’d love to see Mad Max: Fury Road (unlikely) or The Revenant take the best movie gong. Could The Big Short be the one to win it? Get your bets in now, before the odds begin to shorten.

4 stars

Philip Caveney

All Good Things

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29/04/15

Here’s one I missed earlier. All Good Things was originally released in 2010 and it’s one of those ‘based on a true story’ films, so mind-bogglingly bonkers that it really only could be the truth.  Ryan Gosling plays David Marks (the name has been changed to protect the – allegedly – guilty), the older son of dodgy property magnate, Sanford Marks (Frank Langella). When we first meet David, in 1971, he’s determined to resist going into the family business and when he meets up with Katie (Kirsten Dunst) after popping round to mend her leaky pipes, they start a relationship. But as time moves on, Katie begins to appreciate that David has several unsavoury skeletons lurking in his cerebral closet (not least the fact that he witnessed his mother’s suicide) and when eventuality he’s forced to capitulate and go back to work for his domineering dad, it’s painfully clear that things are not going to end happily.

These days, Gosling is very much the sex symbol, but here he plays the moody, cross-dressing and decidedly repellent David with considerable aplomb (although the ‘old age’ makeup he’s forced to don for later scenes wouldn’t win any awards). The story covers a lengthy time period and takes in Katie’s mysterious disappearance and a couple of murders, while the script doesn’t hesitate to point the finger at the real life counterparts of these ‘fictional’ characters. All this may go to explain why the film had such a low key release – apparently there were many who were ready and willing to sue the production team. But director Andrew Jarecki (of Capturing the Friedmans fame) stuck to his guns and somehow managed to get it out there.

All Good Things is certainly worth catching, if only to marvel at the way in which ‘David’ managed to come out of the whole business with no more than eight months in jail. It tells an intriguing (and occasionally mind-blowing story and for the most part, tells it well.

3.8 stars

Philip Caveney