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



WONDER WOMAN*** A Woman Worth the Wonder

WHEN IN THE dying months of the Great War, Diana (aka Wonder Woman) loosens her hair and, sword in hand, strides fearlessly into No Man’s Land, this just about OK movie, earned its price of admission. Israeli ex-soldier Gal Gadot (from some of the endless “Fast and Furious” moneymakers) is Diana, daughter of Hippolyta (Connie Nielsen) queen of the Amazons…crafted in clay and brought alive by Zeus himself. She’s a statuesque beauty that exudes an on-screen presence that’s simply Wowza. More than that, she makes for a thoroughly convincing Amazon. Beauty meets badass like never before.

The movie was directed by Patty Jenkins (‘Monster”) and has, so far, proven to be the highest ever, grossing movie by a woman. To borrow from the old Virginia Slims slogan, “We’ve [OK, they’ve] come a long way babe!” Here’s a super-hero action movie that’s about a colony of warrior women who have chosen to do without men; and that features a fearless woman who doesn’t need the strong arm of a man to help her out as she does battle with the god of war (and most of the German army).

And one that’s had an opening weekend of +$180M.

“Wonder Woman” is both an origin myth (usually the strongest of the superhero tropes, which almost always trail off into repetition thereafter) and a coming of age story. We first meet Diana as a (rebellious) child, desperate to learn the pugilistic ways of her tribe of Amazons. They live in a sort of time-warp bubble in the paradisiacal island of Themiscyra… where they mainly seem to train in mixed martial arts (in a sort of Amazonian fitness centre); all in preparation for the possible return of Ares, the (defeated) god who brought war to the world. War comes to their paradise when Steve, an Allied fighter pilot (Chris Pine) somehow crashes through their invisibility shield. By now the child has morphed into a woman, well capable of plunging deep into the wine dark sea to rescue him. He speaks of a world at war; of terrible loss of life and human suffering. Perhaps the dread Ares (David Thewlis) has retuned. Diana feels she must leave her paradise and return with Steve to kill Ares and end the war. Or maybe she’s just motivated by the sight of her first naked man. He is, after all, above average he tells her, a piece of boasting she no doubt feels compellingly motivating.

And so it came to pass, Diana grew to experience both war and love.

Many battles ensued.

Director Jenkins stages some really impressive – often slo mo- battle scenes as Diana spins and somersaults her way to taking out legions of bad guys… with her sword, shield and Olympian lasso.

The weak link in the whole enterprise is its uninspired script. Alan Heinberg, whose main claim to fame is the ABC crime drama, “The Catch” is credited with the screenplay along with Zac Snyder (credited as story creator and director of the dreary Superman reboots and the turgid “300: Rise of an Empire”) and Jason Fuchs (who wrote “Rags: The Movie”, one of those movies seen only by his family). This trio never quite manage either to attempt at plausibility or even to give Diana’s character, character.

Thank the gods, Gal Gadot manages to pull it off despite them.
And now she’s off for lunch with Bruce Wayne. Those Amazons. They do get around


Wonder Woman. Dir: Patty Jenkins. With: Gal Gadot, Chris Pine, Robin Wright, Connie Nielsen, Danny Huston. Writer: Allan Heinberg. Production Designer: Aline Bonetto (“Pan”). Cinematographer: Matthew Jensen (“Fantastic Four”)




MID WAY THROUGH this magnificent movie, CIA Agent Martha Sullivan, Robin Wright’s character, a brunette version of her character in “House of Cards”, says in response to a question posed to her by Gunther Bachmann (Philip Seymour Hoffman) that she does what she does “to help keep people safe”. Later on, in front of a committee, when he’s asked the same question, Gunther repeats Martha’s words. He skulks around in the dark of the night, well outside the law, as the head of a deep covert German spy agency “to keep people safe”

The big difference between Martha’s and Gunther’s identical statements is that even for him, this ‘been there, done that’, seen too much, cynical spy master, his is a genuine expression of honesty. He’s somehow, despite it all still acting for the good of keeping people safe. Martha’s attitude represents pretty much the attitude of the people Phillip is up against: she does what she does for the headlines and the career boost it’ll give her.

John Le Carré’s novel turned movie (and written by him) is, as you’d expect, set in the shadows. And it’s claustrophobic: the action moves from one small, enclosed space to another. We’re in a world of people listening in on others, following them and plotting out moves like chess masters. Indeed, probably the two only ‘innocent’ or rather naïve people in the movie are chess players. Le Careé’s cynicism is reflected in the fact that in the end, in this world of lies and subterfuge, honor and truth really are out of place.

The wanted man of the title is ostensibly Issa Karpov (Grigoriy Dobyrgin), a refugee Chechen Muslim who has slipped into Hamburg, a city we are told on high alert ever since 9/11 (i.e everywhere). He’s there to locate one Tommy Brue (Willem Dafoe), a shady financier, who holds in trust for him over €10M – the legacy from his dead, gangster father. The German police believe he’s in the city to finance and organize a terrorist plot. They want him caught, arrested and Guantanamo-ed.

For Gunther and his team, however, Issa is just a – probably innocent – lead to much bigger fish. Gunther’s following the money and playing the long game. His intent is to get to the source, to unearth the heart of terrorist funding. As he says, “the minnoes get eaten by the barracudas; the barracudas get eaten by the sharks”. He’s after the killer-whales that eat the shark. It’s a strategy that requires patience and gamesmanship.

His American counterpart – the ruthless, double-crossing Martha – who is quite clearly pulling the strings of both the German counter-intelligence and Internal Security agencies, is all for the fast kill. The quick headline-grabbing imprisonment…which will get her the kudos. She’s happy to sacrifice the sharks for a publicized kill of the barracudas. That at least gives the appearance of success in the ‘war against terror’. It’s a policy that ensures that the cycle of terrorism is forever perpetuated.

These are the guardians of our security.

The most wanted man remains, despite arrests, at large.

In a movie without a car chase or a murder, and with hardly any action to speak of, Director Anton Corbijn (and writer Le Careé) who also gave us Clooney’s moody spy thriller, “The American”, offers us as taut a thriller as you’re likely to get this year. As the story unfolds, and the red herrings are dropped here and there, the audience is kept at the edge of their seats. We know things are going to go wrong. They always do. But when and where? Will people get caught out? Will Gunther’s hunch prove right?

What makes this so irresistibly gripping is its compelling credibility. Who knows how this world of spies really operate. No matter. “A Most Wanted Man” makes us feel that we’re not an audience to an entertainment, but an eavesdropper to a shadowy reality. You keep thinking, as you follow the story down its dark tunnel of lies and deceptions that this really is how it actually works. And this is a credit not only to Corbijn, but to the persuasiveness of the acting.

Philip Seymour Hoffman towers over the movie. My, will he be missed! His Gunther is the absolutely believable antithesis of the movie spy: overweight, alcoholic and chain-smoking. When he speaks (in what seems to me a flawless German accent), his low rumble of words well up from somewhere deep and dark. He manages to combine physical menace with an avuncular tenderness and we can understand precisely why he can both seduce people to go against their friends, and stand up fearlessly to anyone in his way.


Hoffman is not alone. Robin Wright’s CIA Agent Martha is all smiling insincerity. Willem Dafoe’s Tommy is the sleazy wealthy banker forced into acting for the forces of good, despite his best intentions; and the surprise of the movie: Rachel MacAdams as the naïve liberal human rights lawyer, Anabel Rihjter (in a world where she has no rights). She is a compelling balance between vulnerable stupidity and pragmatic acquiescence.

Sadly, this bureaucracy of back-stabbing spies is the force tasked with keeping us all safe. Lock your doors!