BLADE RUNNER*** Out of the world


Beware: there may be some minor spoilers within

THIS IS A lush, sensuous piece of cinema. The terrific combination of director Denis Villeneuve (“Sicario”, “Arrival”), cinematographer Roger Deakins (“Sicario”, “Skyfall”), production designer Dennis Gassner (“Spectre”, “Skyfall”) and the brooding menacing score by Hans Zimmer (“Dunkirk”) have brought to life – quite spectacularly – the desolate, ruined, ever raining, garish, neon-lit world of LA in 2049. The figures are often dwarfed, lost in the unnatural light, the foggy mists of this post-apocalypse city where holographic Elvis concerts and sinuous naked women play out to faceless, indifferent passers-by.

The visual impact is stunning, and so seductively engaging that on many occasions, you’re forced to concentrate on what’s being said rather than being distracted by the eerie, melancholic strangeness on the screen.

The story follows the search by LAPD officer, K (Ryan Gosling) for one or maybe two babies that were born (miraculously) thirty five years before. They are potentially the offsprings of a human (maybe)/Android coupling; between the old blade hunter, Rick Dekard (Harrison Ford), whose humanity remains ambiguous, and his replicant lover.

Things have moved on since the days when Rick hunted down replicants gone bad. The newly created replicants, like K (whose name, humanized to Joe by his lover, deliberately mirrors that of Kafka’s alienated Josef K) are more obedient. And Gosling’s slightly bored, almost robotic acting style suits the role to a T.

But, in a world where the real and the unreal are almost the same, things begin to go awry for K after he begins to intuit that one of his childhood memories may well be real, and not just an implant.

Though there’s a boast that the replicants are more human than the humans, their mastermind, Niander Wallace (Jared Leto…replacing the original intention to cast Dave Bowie) bemoans their lack of two essential qualities: a reproductive womb and a soul.

K’s increasingly obsessive search for the babies shatters the myth of his replicant obedience. It makes him a target of the State lead by a ruthlessly badass, and ironically named, Luv (Sylvia Hoeks). But it also leads him to Rick, the father of the twins, with whom he bonds.

This outer search is really K’s inner search for his real identity. Is he a replicant created in a factory, or human? And what really does being human mean? Certainly the love he has for Joi, (Ana de Armas) his AI “companion” who can morph from helpmeet to seductress (joy) in a blink of an eye (and with whom, in the body of a human prostitute he has one of cinema’s weirdest couplings) is real.

Can the realness of this love indicate the presence of a soul? Does this simply mean that he is human or that he’s become a replicant with a soul? And if the latter, then the fundamental divide aggressively maintained by the State, between replicants and humans becomes meaningless.

It’s a beautifully and intelligently scripted movie (by Hampton Fancher – “Blade Runner 1982” and Michael Green – “Logan”). No wonder Harrison Ford found it the best script he’d read. This is the kind of movie the Oscar types love: it’s so rich in that irreplaceable big screen, cinema experience and just enough profundity to make the experience ‘meaningful’, that the gaping flaws are overlooked (like “Gravity” and “La La Land”).

Watch this space.

The problem I found with the movie though, is that despite the script’s yearning for depth and the awesomeness of the production design, as a basic whodunnit narrative, there were countless gaps and holes in the storyline. One of the childten for example, is allergic to germs (symbolically allergic to the world she lives in) and holed up in an antiseptic bubble. Who put her there and keeps her there? Why? K flies around in a beaten up old LAPD car that turns into a rocket launching lethal weapon, taking out several other cop cars whose location he seems to have intuited. Huh?

And it was looong. It comes in at just under three hours. Though never boring, there were many moments when I wished they’d simply get on with the story, which often felt self indulgent…a bit too smugly pleased with itself. Joe Walker who has worked with Villeneuve on both “Sicario” and “Arrival” needed to have tightened the editing far more severely.

That said, it’s an enjoyable evolution on Ridley Scott’s initial story. Thank God he, or some canny producer, allowed him to relinquish control to Villeneuve (and not muck it up the way he’s done with the “Alien” franchise)
We’re always grateful for any small blessing.

 

BLADE RUNNER 2049. Dir: Denis Villeneuve. With: Ryan Gosling, Harrison Ford, Ana de Armas, Dave Bautista, Robin Wright. Screenplay: Hampton Fancher, Michael Green based on a story by Phillip K. Dick. Cinematographer: Roger Deakins. Production Designer: Dennis Gassner. Composers: Benjamin Wallfisch and Hans Zimmer

 

LOGAN**** X-cellent


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“LOGAN’ IS THE final, tremendous, outing of the wonderful character created by Hugh Jackman seventeen years ago. Seventeen, would you believe? When we first met the wolverine, he was cage-fighting for money. It was a fitting symbol of the character he remained: a caged animal; a savage killer, driven by the demons of his mutant body, all barely held in check by the enduring humanity and basic decency of his ravaged soul.

What made that first outing of the X-Men such an engaging piece of pulp moviemaking was not only the superhuman heroics of its mutants, but the strong relationships that drove the stories: the father/son relationship between Logan and Professor Charles Xavier; his paternal relationship with Rogue etc. In “Logan”, this final fling, these same strong, surprisingly tender relationships – between Logan, Xavier and Laura, a (badass) ten year old girl – give the movie its heart and its impetus.

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When we again meet Logan and Xavier (Patrick Stewart), they’re holed out, like bums, in El Paso. Logan’s a limo driver; and a carer to a decrepit Charles Xavier. Xavier, now ninety, has to be helped to the loo and regularly fed a regimen of meds to keep his destructive mental abilities in check (He’s prone to generating earth-shattering, mind crippling storms). Logan himself is a shadow of what he used to be: he’s old, tired, aching and slowly dying of the adamantium that’s cemented to his skeleton.

When these X-Men movies succeed (many haven’t) and why “Logan” works so well, the people and the emotions feel real. This emotional credibility enables the audience to accept as ‘real’, the hokum of endangered mutants battling corporate enterprise. The quasi father/son family group of Logan and Xavier, is served by a strange, bandaged albino creature, Caliban (Stephen Merchant, in a marvelous, barely recognizable role), whose abilities warn them of the approach of danger. Into this tortured trio comes Laura, a hissingly vicious ten year old mutant, also with adamantium claws, who has managed to escape from the lab in which she was created, using Logan’s DNA. (Daphne Keen, an Anglo-Spanish actor, in her first movie role, is Laura. She has a tremendous screen presence, and there’s no doubt we’ll be seeing a lot more of her)
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They must all find their way to safety, either South on a boat or North in a new Eden, and escape the thunderous, scorched-earth approach of Transigen -The Corporation – armed with a new and improved clone of wolverine. Many battles, and huge loss of life ensue. (There are always sub-texts to these movies; in “Logan”, our heroes must escape one place of safety, Mexico, for another place of safety, Canada. The real danger lies in the US. Hmm)

Director James Mangold (whose oeuvre is a mixed bag: the awful “Knight and Day” and the tremendous “Girl, Interrupted”, plus the laborious “The Wolverine”) and co-writers Scott Frank (“The Minority Report”) and Michael Green (“Green Lantern”) give Hugh Jackman and Patrick Stewart very meaty, almost theatrical, roles. Gone is the imperious, haughty arrogance of their youth. They’re now crumbling, all too mortal men battling to stay the inevitability of death (a first for movies of this sort?) But it’s by no means a somber, lugubrious film. Mangold’s flair for well-staged action set-pieces, and the breathless momentum of what is essentially a single long chase sequence, keeps the energy high and the adrenaline pumping.

I guess next we can look forward to “X-Men. The New Generation”. But that script, no doubt, is still “in the works”

LOGAN. Dir: James Mangold. With: Hugh Jackman, Partick Stewart, Dafne Keen, Boyd Holbrook (“Morgan”), Stephen Merchant (“The Office”). Cinematographer: John Mathieson (“The Man from U.N.C.L.E”), Production Designer: Francois Audouy (“The Wolverine”)