Blade Runner 2049

October 6, 2017 by  
Filed under Kiko, Reviews

Starring: Ryan Gosling, Ana de Armas, Harrison Ford
Directed by: Denis Villeneuve (“Arrival”)
Written by: Hampton Fancher (“Blade Runner”) and Michael Green (“Logan”)

Depending on how invested you are in filmmaker Ridley Scott’s 1982 sci-fi/film noir classic “Blade Runner,” its sequel, “Blade Runner 2049” by Oscar-nominated director Denis Villeneuve (“Arrival”), will either surpass your expectations or be, at least, a worthy companion piece that adds to the original’s expanding mythos.

Clocked at a hefty 163 minutes, “2049” revisits a dystopian world where androids known as “replicants” are hunted down and destroyed by cops known as blade runners. Two-time Oscar nominee Ryan Gosling (“La La Land”) stars as “K,” a blade runner who is searching for the original blade runner Deckard (Harrison Ford) to get some answers he needs to solve a case. Jarred Leto slightly hams up the screen as a corporate villain who wants to create more replicants to do as he pleases.

First, Villeneuve, along with 13-time Oscar-nominated cinematographer Roger Deakins, who should pick up his first win ever this year if the Academy feels he has suffered long enough, creates a futuristic setting brimming with brilliance and style. Visually speaking, this is Villeneuve’s best work, which speaks volumes since every one of his prior films is memorable for the tone and look he gives the picture.

With “2049,” Villeneuve has more storytelling devices and tools at his disposal and the extra resources are evident in the way he and Deakins layer each scene to perfection through color and structure. This is especially true with the technology featured. While many of the ideas don’t necessarily feel groundbreaking (Steven Spielberg’s “Minority Report” felt more ahead of its time when it was released in 2002), Villeneuve’s vision is one of the filmmaker’s best assets.

Gosling’s laid-back demeanor can, at times, feel a bit canned, but when the script allows him to show some range, he owns his leading-man status fairly seamlessly, especially when playing opposite his hologram domestic partner Joi (Ana de Armas), whose AI-inspired character is breathtaking to behold. The love scene between Joi and K is depicted beautifully.

Still, despite its flawless atmosphere, “2049” doesn’t tighten up its convoluted script enough to make the storytelling as intriguing as it is picturesque. Questions arise about what makes someone human – emotions, memories, an actual body – but there is little room for an in-depth exploration of these interesting themes. If you consider the original film the mold from which every other sci-fi movie since has blossomed from, “2049” will have you hooked from the start. For everyone else, it’ll probably be an improvement from the first but still too familiar to leave the same kind of lasting impression the original has earned over the years.

Sicario

October 2, 2015 by  
Filed under Jerrod, Reviews

Starring: Emily Blunt, Benicio Del Toro, Josh Brolin
Directed by: Denis Villeneuve (“Prisoners”)
Written by: Taylor Sheridan (debut)

As a life-long Texan, in the last 30 years I’ve seen Mexico’s border towns along the Rio Grande go from quick day trips where you could buy cheap tequila and handmade leather belts to cartel-run nightmares where violence rules and American tourists fear to tread. Four years ago, I stood on a rooftop in Eagle Pass, Texas – looking half a mile down the road into Piedras Negras – and wondered if it would ever be as safe as it was when I was a kid to pay 20 cents to walk across the international bridge. After seeing the fantastic “Sicario,” however, I’m thinking the border may not be somewhere I – or anyone else – will be able to safely visit (or live) again.

When a raid in suburban Phoenix looking for kidnap victims turns into a house of horrors and costs several Phoenix PD officers their lives, FBI special agent Kate Macer (Emily Blunt) is invited to join a shadowy inter-agency mission with the CIA led by Matt Graver (Josh Brolin, sporting a perpetual shit-eating grin) and assisted by the mysterious Alejandro (Benicio Del Toro). Macer tags along to El Paso, only to find Special Forces soldiers gearing up for a grab-and-go mission into Juarez, Mexico, that culminates in the sort of casual international violence that would be an act of war if the interaction was between any nations other than the United States and Mexico. As Mercer dives deeper into the hell on Earth that is the Mexican border and the war on drugs, she finds herself torn between trying to cut the head off a snake via less than legal means or live with a never-ending war.

Director Denis Villeneuve isn’t shy about portraying Mexico as an essentially lawless hellhole dominated by drug cartels and unspeakable violence, a point of view that may serve to validate the ramblings of Donald Trump to certain interested parties. Politics aside, Villeneuve stages most of the action through Mercer’s point of view, pushing the character past her limits by making her a pawn in the game between the CIA, the cartel, and whoever it is Alejandro answers to. With explosive violence bubbling beneath the surface at times – none better than a white-knuckle traffic jam on an international bridge – and solid work from Blunt, Brolin, and Del Toro, “Sicario” is timely and powerful enough to excuse some minor faults that, from time to time, seem to place Del Toro’s character outside of the reality the rest of the movie inhabits. Even so, “Sicario” remains one of the best movies of the year.

Enemy

March 27, 2014 by  
Filed under Kiko, Reviews

Starring: Jake Gyllenhaal, Mélanie Laurent, Sarah Gadon
Directed by: Denis Villeneuve (“Prisoners”)
Written by: Javier Gullón (“Hierro”)

Following last year’s extremely tense thriller “Prisoners,” director Denis Villeneuve teams up once again with actor Jake Gyllenhaal for “Enemy,” a bizarrely atmospheric and often times metaphoric head scratcher featuring an open-ended narrative most mainstream audiences would probably scoff at. Villeneuve isn’t the type of director to serve up answers to his audience without making them think at a higher level than most filmmakers. We’re not talking quantum physics here, but even more so than “Prisoners,” Villeneuve demands viewers not to expect simple solutions for the puzzling scenarios he presents onscreen.

In “Enemy,” which was actually shot before “Prisoners,” Gyllenhaal stars as Adam Bell, an introverted history professor whose life has become very repetitious. Teaching the same lessons to his classes and coming home to the same dark apartment are events Adam has acclimated to over the years. His daily routine is broken, however, when Adam, on the recommendation from a colleague, rents an obscure movie and discovers that a bit-part actor in the film looks exactly like him. Curious to know more about this man who shares all his physical features (doppelganger? long lost twin brother?), Adam searches him out. Although the self-absorbed actor, Anthony St. Claire, is not very interested in the strange connection they have, he soon changes his mind and wants to meet Adam to see the similarities for himself.

Their initial meeting thrusts them into a mysterious mind game of skepticism and deceit wherein the two men decide they would like to try living as the other for a weekend. Villeneuve and screenwriter Javier Gullón (“Hierro”) are vague in their reasoning for this Machiavellian-like switch to take place other than for the story to move forward. Adam’s reaction to his discovery is also peculiarly written and not entirely believable. Would someone search out an individual in such a clandestine way? Sure, it adds to the intrigue of the story and to Villeneuve’s filmmaking style, but it doesn’t always feel true to life.

Despite its flaws, “Enemy,” based on a novel by Nobel Prize winner José Saramago, is sharp in its delivery and creates this underlying discomfort that is perfect for its subject matter. Gyllenhaal gives a pair of strong performances as Adam and Anthony, the latter of whom comes with a lot of unusual baggage, including a sexual fetish that plays into the storyline with some creepy imagery. Villeneuve’s vision, too, is unsettling. With the film washed out in a yellow hue, “Enemy” gives off this sense of repulse that is more than skin deep. Pick at the scabs long enough and something ugly is bound to seep out.

Prisoners

September 26, 2013 by  
Filed under CineStrays

Starring: Hugh Jackman, Jake Gyllenhaal, Paul Dano
Directed by: Denis Villeneuve (“Incendies”)
Written by: Aaron Guzikowski (“Contraband”)

While it’s script might transform from intriguing police procedural into something that could be described as controlled chaos, director Denis Villeneuve 153-minute long drama is effectively tense. Anchored by a raw and powerful performance from Hugh Jackman and a solid contribution from Jake Gyllenhaal, this film about two young girls who are kidnapped confronts some extremely hard-hitting themes and scenarios that would make any parent shudder. Things get messy as the film spirals to a conclusion, but there’s no way you’re going to move unless you know how it all ends (even though you technically don’t).