Director: Denis Villeneuve
Genre: Science Fiction
I wanted to open this review with some notes on the first Blade Runner movie and it’s importance to me growing up in the earlier stages of science fiction on the big screen. It’s now almost thirty-five years since I was transfixed by the first film on VHS and now some twenty-six or so years since I finally caught a showing of the directors cut at the cinema. Blade Runner is a film with equally important status as the original Star Wars trilogy in my eyes and after much speculation and rumour over the years we finally have a sequel. At first I was apprehensive especially after Ridley Scott bowing to public demand in what he gave us in Alien Covenant. Then, Denis Villeneuve was announced as directing. A brave decision by Scott to relinquish artistic control of his baby, so to speak, but also a very wise choice after the incredible Arrival last year. My interest was now spiking and I could not wait for the film’s release.
The events take place some thirty years after those of the first film. Ryan Gosling is an up and coming Blade Runner and despite advances in the creation of synthetics issues of compliance and obedience were still common place and units were still required to “retire” any replicants who presented any problems.
Whilst on a case Gosling’s “K” makes a discovery that will completely change the perception of replicants, one which could present a real danger to humans. With strict orders to contain the discovery the case leads K to seek out Rick Deckard who has been missing for the thirty years since the closing of the last movie.
Ryan Gosling plays K perfectly. From movies like Drive, Gosling has shown he has just the right talents to pull off a role such as K. A wry and ever so dry individual, K has to deal with questions of his own existence and that of both humans and replicants alike and Gosling displays that this is something of a battle for him exceptionally well.
Harrison Ford reprises his role of Rick Deckard with something of a swagger about him. Having spent three decades in isolation with as much alcohol as he can consume he has become even more cynical than he was to begin with. Much like his return as Han Solo, it’s like Deckard has never been away and it’s a joy to see him back again.
Dave Bautista, Robin Wright & Jared Leto don’t really have the sort of screen time that really warrants a full analysis but to be fair they all offer competent input to the overall story. I was grateful that Leto wasn’t given much to do as I’m not a big fan but, fair is fair, he does give a cold, detached and undesirable element to Niandaer Wallace, the man who had taken the work of the now collapsed empire of the Tyrell corporation to the next level.
Ana de Armas brings a certain charm to Joi, a sort of love interest for K. Despite her limitations she has a genuine affection and love for K and she’s prepared to risk all to stand by him.
It’s Sylvia Hoeks, however, that really shines as the replicant Luv. As a kind of enforcer for Wallace, she shows every bit of ruthlessness and brutality that Rutger Hauer showed as Roy Batty in the original film. She really is a joy to watch as she attempts to complete her mission with extreme prejudice.
Well, what can I say. I was utterly blown away at how good Blade Runner 2049 was. At two hours forty minutes long I expected some moments where those uncomfortable cinema seats would remind you of their presence but that just didn’t happen. It was captivating from the very first minute to the very last. As with the first the imagery was breathtaking as the perception of Los Angeles at the time that the movie is set was presented. Bright and glittery whilst dark and bleak simultaneously, I was just sucked back into a world I thought I would only ever see in yet another Blu-Ray cut of the original film. My first words after seeing that aren’t really fit for publication but my remark that it was simply amazing will help get the point across. Ridley Scott, along with Villeneuve, have managed to create a movie that stays impeccably faithful to the previous film and take the story to the next stage with great interest. It’s like the equivalent of Aliens following Alien, although perhaps not better overall just a hugely worthy following installment. I’m comfortable saying that this will sit very nicely in my small but building collection of Ultra HD 4K Blu-ray. It’s a film I will likely catch again on its current run, hopefully in Imax.
The verdict: 4.5/5 Stars: Absolutely amazing cinema.
Director: Michael Cuesta
Mitch Rapp (Dylan O’Brien) had already lost his parents in a car accident as a teenager when tragedy struck again upon a holiday beach when, shortly after proposing, he sees his girlfriend murdered by terrorists during an attack along with several other tourists. Understandably Rapp is changed by the events and he resolves to become a vigilante and seeking out those responsible for the attack looking for some kind of payback. Unbeknownst to Rapp, the C.I.A. are monitoring him and are impressed with his work and he is soon assigned to train with Stan Hurley (Michael Keaton) by Irene Kennedy (Sanaa Lathan). The film details his change from an everyday young man to his training with Hurley and his early trips into the field.
Dylan O’Brien was something of an unknown quantity for me before this film. I’ve not seen any of the Maze Runner films and at first glance I thought he may be a little too clean-cut for the role he was playing. In fairness, that is part of the set up of his character. That he has gone from the guy on the street to revenge crazed vigilante as a result of the events on that beach. He does this well and is very enjoyable in the role.
Michael Keaton is a seasoned performer, that’s not in dispute. He has over the years appeared in some of the less well received blockbusters over the years but for the former dark knight this is one of his much more creditable appearances as mentor to Rapp. Naturally they clash and as Rapp tests Hurley’s strict disciplines both in training and in the field. Despite his marshalled approach Hurley also manages to display some equally crazed traits in the latter stages of the movie.
Sanaa Lathan was a little bit of a disappointment in my eyes. I expected a tougher, more strong-minded stance from the character of Irene Kennedy playing superior to both Rapp and Hurley. Maybe it’s the way the role was written that suffocated the output Lathan delivered, if so she can’t be held responsible for doing what was asked and for that to lack some punch.
Finally, Taylor Kitsch appears as “Ghost” who was a former trainee of Hurley’s now gone rogue. Kitsch is one of those actors I sometimes can’t actually tell if they deserve any merit but he does well here. Clearly a tortured soul with a desire to exact havoc upon his former superiors, it’s a gritty and determined performance from the True Detective star.
I was particularly pleased to find American Assassin was an 18 certificate in the UK. Firstly this means no kids in the cinema but more importantly it means the film won’t be holding back and it doesn’t. The opening scene is a quite horrific account of a terrorist attach upon a busy holiday beach. After this the film switches to being a very slow burning tale. So slow burning you did begin to wonder if it was going to come to and notable climax. This is where the film is quite clever, it builds the story well and introduces the characters methodically but without any tension as such. Then you get to the final twenty-five minutes and the film just roars into a breathless climax ending with some spectacular scenes at sea.
The verdict: 4/5 Stars: A more than competent thriller that slow burns and then comes to a roaring conclusion.
Director: Doug Liman
A commercial airline pilot, Barry Seal (Tom Cruise), lands a job with the C.I.A. taking aerial photography and running guns in South America whilst doubling up as a drug smuggler for Pablo Escobar. American Made charts the rise and fall of this hapless chancer and how it changed his life and details some of the escapades he endured during the Ronald Reagan administration of the nineteen eighties.
The cast list is not huge and is hardly filled with household names and Tom Cruise has not been having the best of years. The correctly scourned update on The Mummy did not perform well and he’s also suffered injury whilst filming the latest Mission Impossible instalment. How do things go here? Well, not great in all honesty. It’s a typical Cruise role and whilst he makes a good fist of it he’s left wanting when it comes to doing much with the story here. Domhnall Gleeson does little better as ‘Schafer”, Seal’s agency handler. He has limited screen time and you’d have to wonder what the director would have given him to do had their been more available. Sarah Wright is the only one who provides any kind of spark as Seal’s wife, Lucy, but again only short spells on-screen for Wright mean that the spark only glimmers very briefly.
There’s very little to say about American Made, which is why this article isn’t going to get anywhere near my usual sort of word count. The film is, in a word, DULL. It completely fails to spike the imagination and the character of Barry Seal fails to evoke any kind of empathy. I really didn’t care what happened to him. The story is told in a very humdrum fashion and it’s just a repetitive sequence of plane rides and deliveries. The film was based on true events and, that said, they are usually overly glorified versions of what really happened to add that dramatic effect. I can only imagine how mundane and uninteresting the actual event must have been at the time if that’s the level of entertainment the film manages to drum up. More imaginative writing and direction are what this story so sorely missed out on.
The verdict: 2/5 Stars: American Mess
Director: Steven Soderbergh
When Jimmy Logan (Channing Tatum) is let go from his job, faced with the prospect of his daughter moving to another state, he resolves to pull off a heist with his brother, Clyde (Adam Driver). In doing so he hopes that success will put to rest any suggestion of a curse upon the Logan siblings. Jimmy and Clyde enlist the help of the currently incarcerated Joe Bang (Daniel Craig) and his brothers. The plan is to break Joe out and then head to the North Carolina NASCAR race and relieve them of the cash takings from the day’s attendees. It sounds simple and yet that’s usually the word used to describe the Logan brothers and surely it can’t all go to plan can it?
It’s a good cast, scratch that, it’s an excellent cast which is why when we get to the film itself it just exacerbates the disappointment. Tatum and Driver are perfectly cast for the roles of the Logan Brothers. They project their hillbillyish personas with excellent delivery. This role for Daniel Craig is his “as you’ve never seen him before” performance. To be fair, that could just mean he isn’t playing James Bond. It’s not that he does anything wrong, more that the only thing that stands out is his bleach blonde hair. He’s lively enough but he’s nowhere near as outrageous as the film would like you to think. Seth MacFarlane’s role is a little less seen and is probably one of his more forgettable on-screen appearances. The same can be said for Hilary Swank as the investigating FBI officer who only appears right at the closing acts of the film.
So what went wrong? As already touched upon, you have a great cast here and a very respectable director in Steven Soderbergh so this should have been all it promised to be which, in my opinion, was a cracking comedy heist caper. That’s what the trailer suggested it would be but Logan Lucky is another one of those films that the trailer promised some things that the film just did not deliver. To be more specific, if you removed the words cracking and comedy from a cracking comedy heist caper then you get a lot closer to what this movie actually is. The film barely raises any kind of real laughs and only the faintest of sniggers at anything remotely funny. Now we’ve established that it really isn’t offering anything worthy of the comedy tag let’s get onto what remains, the heist caper. That IS what remains, a heist caper. So how does it perform in that genre? Competently is the kindest word I can use to describe it. What it gives you is an Ocean’s movie if Danny’s team were all hillbillies in North Carolina. It’s structure is exactly the same just with slightly different locations, situations and patsys. It’s runs exactly by the numbers of an Ocean’s movie. Of course, this shouldn’t be surprising as Soderbergh is responsible for all three of those movies. All he’s done here is resprayed the car. I’m not telling you this film is awful, it isn’t, but what I am saying is that it’s another that does not do what is says on the tin.
The verdict: 2.5/5 Stars: Oceans 14 with hillbillies