Film Review: Blade Runner 2049 (2017)

Release Date: October 3rd, 2017 (Dolby Theatre premiere)
Directed by: Denis Villeneuve
Written by: Hampton Fancher, Michael Green
Based on: Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? by Philip K. Dick
Music by: Hans Zimmer, Benjamin Wallfisch
Cast: Ryan Gosling, Harrison Ford, Ana de Armas, Sylvia Hoeks, Robin Wright, Mackenzie Davis, Carla Juri, Lennie James, Dave Bautista, Jared Leto, David Dastmalchian, Edward James Olmos, Sean Young

Alcon Entertainment, Columbia Pictures, Scott Free Productions, Torridon Films, 16:14 Entertainment, Thunderbird Entertainment, Warner Bros., 163 Minutes  

Review:

“Replicants are like any other machine – they are either a benefit or a hazard. If they are a benefit, it’s not my problem.” – Rick Deckard

Here we go, I’ve been waiting for this movie since Ridley Scott first mentioned that he had an idea for a followup. This is the film I have most anticipated in 2017. So how did this sequel, thirty-five years after the original, pan out?

Well, it is mostly pretty damn good. It is also a very different film than its predecessor.

While Ridley Scott produced and was originally set to direct this, he gave the job to Denis Villeneuve, a guy who is really making a name for himself as one of the best directors in Hollywood. Between ArrivalSicario and now this, the 50 year-old director has found his stride and may be blossoming into an auteur for the current generation.

From a visual standpoint, while Villeneuve had a hand in it, the credit really has to go to cinematographer Roger Deakins. He’s a veteran of cinema that has worked on some true classics, including twelve collaborations with the Coen brothers, three with Sam Mendes and now three with Villeneuve. Blade Runner 2049 is something Deakins should truly be proud of and it may be his magnum opus as a cinematographer. His work and vision is a clear homage to the original Blade Runner while updating it and moving it into the future. It is still a neo-noir dreamscape with a cyberpunk aesthetic. It employs the same lighting techniques as classic film-noir, as did the 1982 Blade Runner, and it brings in vibrant and breathtaking colors. This is one of the best looking films to come out of Hollywood in quite some time.

The screenplay was handled by Hampton Fancher and Michael Green. Fancher co-wrote the original movie and was partly responsible for giving life to these characters and their world. While the original Blade Runner conveys emotion in a more subtle way, by the time you see the character of Deckard in this film, thirty years later in the story, he clearly wears his emotions on his sleeve, which is a pretty welcome and refreshing change.

We also get little cameos by Edward James Olmos and Sean Young. With Olmos, we see how he has evolved and he gives insight into Deckard. Sean Young appears in order to get a reaction out of Deckard from a narrative standpoint.

Now the star of the picture is Ryan Gosling. Harrison Ford doesn’t really show up until the third act of the film. Regardless, Gosling really knocks it out of the park in this. He is one of the best actors working today and he gives a performance that is very well-balanced. Where Ford gave a pretty understated performance in the 1982 film, Gosling feels more like a real person, which is funny, considering that you know he is actually a Replicant in the beginning of the film.

The cast is rounded out by three great females: Robin Wright, Ana de Armas and Sylvia Hoeks. Wright plays Gosling’s tough as nails commanding officer. De Armas plays Gosling’s right hand, a digital maid, companion and quite possibly the real love of his life. Hoeks plays the villainous Replicant who works for the story’s main villain and is sent into the field to fulfill his hidden agenda.

The film also features small but pivotal parts for Jared Leto and Dave Bautista. Leto plays the villain of the story and is the man who bought out the Tyrell Corporation and has made an even larger company that makes a ton of products but primarily focuses on further developing Replicant technology. Bautista plays the Replicant that Gosling is looking for in the very beginning; he has major ties to the film’s overarching plot.

One thing that makes the film so alluring, apart from the visuals, is the score by Hans Zimmer and Benjamin Wallfisch. It is a departure from the style Zimmer usually employs. While it still has his touch, it is a score that is truly an artistic extension of Vangelis’ work on the original Blade Runner. It has those Zimmer flourishes in it but very much matches up with the audible essence of the first picture.

Everything about this film is pretty close to perfect, except for one thing: the pacing. While there isn’t really a dull moment in the film, it does seem to drag on longer than it needs to. Some of the details could have been whittled down. The thing I love about the first film is that it just sort of moves. While a lot doesn’t happen in it overall, it still flows, things happen and it isn’t over saturated with lots of details or plot developments. Compared to the first, this film feels over complicated. Plus, it is just so long. Maybe I’m getting old but I just don’t want to sit in a theater for three hours, unless it’s some grindhouse double feature. But I also sat through the first Blade Runner before this, as I caught this on a special double feature bill. I could have just been antsy after being in my seat for over five hours with just a quick intermission.

Blade Runner 2049 is very much its own film. It works as a sequel but it also works as a sole body of work. The fact that it doesn’t simply retread the same story as the first and instead expands on it quite a bit, is what makes this a picture that can justify its own existence. Was this sequel necessary? We were fine for thirty-five years without it. But it proved that it is more than just a Hollywood cash grab because of its brand recognition.

Few films these days are truly art; at least films from the major studios. Blade Runner 2049 is a solid piece of cinematic art. While not perfect, it’s about as close as modern Hollywood gets these days.

Film Review: Detour (1945)

Release Date: November 15th, 1945 (Boston premiere)
Directed by: Edgar G. Ulmer
Written by: Martin Goldsmith
Based on: Detour: An Extraordinary Tale by Martin Goldsmith
Music by: Leo Erdody
Cast: Tom Neal, Ann Savage

Producers Releasing Corporation, 68 Minutes

Review:

“Money. You know what that is, the stuff you never have enough of. Little green things with George Washington’s picture that men slave for, commit crimes for, die for. It’s the stuff that has caused more trouble in the world than anything else we ever invented, simply because there’s too little of it.” – Al Roberts

Historically speaking, this is mostly an unknown film. To fans of film-noir, however, it holds a special place among the great noir pictures of the 1940s.

On its surface, it is a b-movie. It wasn’t made by a major studio and was one of countless noir style pictures that were being churned out like ice cream cones at the 1904 St. Louis World’s Fair.

However, with so many of these movies being made, one of these b-pictures had to stand out. Granted, it isn’t the only b-movie noir to make some sort of impact but it is one of the most beloved by noir experts.

I never saw this picture. Reading about it in several places made me want to check it out and I’m glad that I did. Detour is an exceptional movie and a lot better than it should have been but the studios on “Poverty Row” had to fight hard to compete with the big studio system in Hollywood.

The script was really good but it was also adapted by the guy who wrote the novel that the film was based on. It’s an interesting story, well executed and a lot of the credit also has to go to the performances of Tom Neal and Ann Savage. They weren’t Oscar caliber performances but the two leads had a chemistry and Savage was dedicated in her commitment to the role of the unlikable and brutal Vera.

The film also makes the most out of very little and shows that ingenuity and heart can go a long way. I’m not sure if Edgar G. Ulmer, the director, intended to make something this good with the limitations of the production but he succeeded. He had experience in producing quality pictures though, as he did a pretty good job eleven years earlier at Universal with The Black Cat, a horror film starring Bela Lugosi, Boris Karloff and an uncredited John Carradine.

This is a relatively short movie but it tells its story and is quickly paced. The only real negative, is that you don’t seem to have enough invested in Tom Neal’s Al Roberts to care too much about his fate, even though he is an innocent guy that just stumbled into a bad situation.

Detour is still impressive. For fans of film-noir, it should be seen, as it is quite possibly the best of the b-movie noirs of the era and it stands above a lot of the films the major studios were putting out.

Film Review: They Live by Night (1948)

Release Date: August, 1948 (London)
Directed by: Nicholas Ray
Written by: Charles Schnee, Nicholas Ray
Based on: Thieves Like Us by Edward Anderson
Music by: Leigh Harline
Cast: Cathy O’Donnell, Farley Granger, Howard Da Silva

RKO Radio Pictures, 95 Minutes

Review:

“I’ll take steps a block long. Anyone gets in my way, I’ll stomp ’em!” – Chickamaw

While They Live by Night isn’t my favorite Nicholas Ray picture, it was the start of his career and was a much better film than most director’s first efforts.

The film is also a sort of prototype to Bonnie and Clyde, not officially, but it shares a very similar narrative about two lovers on the run from the law. However, the original novel could have been inspired by the real life Bonnie and Clyde, who met their demise in 1934, just three years before the novel Thieves Like Us was published.

The story starts with some prison escapees fleeing towards freedom in 1930s Mississippi. The men decided to rob a bank. One of them, a young man named Bowie, was wrongfully convicted of murder and feels that he can use the money from the bank heist to pay for a lawyer that can prove his innocence.

Things go sideways, Bowie is hurt and finds refuge with the daughter of a gas station owner. The two fall in love and plan to live an honest life away from all the crime and violence. Keechie, the girl, gets pregnant but at the same time, the two men from Bowie’s gang return, demanding his help. Of course, things go sideways again.

The film was well shot and very well directed and it even featured some innovations. For instance, the helicopter shot during the opening credits was pretty unique for 1948 and it kicked this film off with a lot of energy. Also, being a mostly noir picture, it leaves behind the genre’s typical tight interior sets and spends a good amount of time in the wide open spaces of the rural Mid-South, the same geographical region where Bonnie and Clyde committed their robbery spree. They Live by Night is a wide open picture compared to most of the films like it.

The starring duo of Cathy O’Donnell and Farley Granger were pretty much newcomers to the big screen but they held their own and their love for one another seemed genuine. O’Donnell was especially good and you feel nothing but sadness for her, as she is thrown into a heartbreaking and perilous situation.

They Live by Night is a very well made motion picture. There isn’t a whole lot that you can say about it that could be negative. It has a good director, nice cinematography, treads some original ground and has good acting. If you like Bonnie and Clyde, you’ll probably enjoy this too. Nicholas Ray would go on to make some better movies but this one still holds a special place.

Film Review: Framed (1947)

Also known as: They Walk Alone (working title)
Release Date: March 7th, 1947
Directed by: Richard Wallace
Written by: Ben Maddow, John Patrick
Music by: Marlin Skiles, Arthur Morton
Cast: Glenn Ford, Janis Carter, Barry Sullivan

Columbia Pictures, 82 Minutes

Review:

Glenn Ford is one of those old actors that I like a lot but haven’t spent enough time working my way through his work. He was on the television a lot when I was a kid in the 80s, as my mum pretty much had AMC on all the time and back then, it stood for American Movie Classics and showed nothing but actual American movie classics. Ford starred in a lot of these films.

Working my way through a lot of film-noir, as of late, I wanted to give Framed a watch. Plus, it was available on YouTube for free, as many of these old school noir pictures are.

Framed also stars Janis Carter, a woman who did not get a lot of high profile roles but was probably more deserving of them than a lot of the ladies that got to the heights of Hollywood. She was impressive as hell in this and it showed that her best work would come. Unfortunately, she only stuck around in pictures for five more years before finishing her career in some German language films.

Ford plays Mike Lambert, a mining engineer that takes a temporary truck job but finds himself in trouble as his brakes fail. He goes barreling into a small town but miraculously doesn’t hurt anyone and only slightly damages the truck. Lambert is then arrested for reckless driving but his $50 bail is paid for by the lovely barmaid, Paula Craig (Carter). The reason Paula intervened is because Lambert has the same height and build as her boyfriend Steve Price, played by Barry Sullivan. The plan is to kill Lambert and make the body look as if it was Price, faking his death so that the two can get away with the $250,000 that Steve embezzled from his bank job.

Janis Carter plays the typical wicked femme fatale with plans of her own and a sugary eye on the new man in town that has come into her life. We get the typical plot twists and deception and never really know where this thing is going until the end. Carter did a fine job in this role and she sort of takes over the picture when she’s present, which is what a femme fatale should do.

Glenn Ford and Barry Sullivan both carried their own but Carter was the highlight of the film for me.

Framed is far from a perfect film-noir but it works really well. The characters are interesting enough, the situation isn’t wholly original but it keeps you engaged and everyone does a good job of giving this picture some life. Plus, it is a short movie that speeds by quite quickly.

Film Review: The Maltese Falcon (1941)

Also known as: The Gent From Frisco, The Knight of Malta (both were working titles)
Release Date: October 3rd, 1941 (New York City premiere)
Directed by: John Huston
Written by: John Huston
Based on: The Maltese Falcon by Dashiell Hammett
Music by: Adolph Deutsch
Cast: Humphrey Bogart, Mary Astor, Gladys George, Peter Lorre, Barton MacLane, Lee Patrick, Sydney Greenstreet, Elisha Cook Jr.

Warner Bros., 101 Minutes

Review:

“When you’re slapped, you’ll take it and like it.” – Sam Spade

I remember seeing the poster for The Maltese Falcon in a Hardee’s fast food restaurant near my house when I was a young kid. It was on a wall that was also decorated with posters from The African QueenCasablanca, Key Largo, The Big Sleep and The Treasure of the Sierra Madre. Whoever the franchise owner was, they must have been a big Bogart fan. Something about that Maltese Falcon poster just grabbed me though. I wouldn’t see the film until years later but I always remember eating breakfast in a dining room surrounded by Bogart’s manly mug.

As I got older, I too became a big fan of Humphrey Bogart. In fact, he is my favorite big wig actor alongside Orson Welles. The Maltese Falcon was also a film that drew me in and lived up to the hype of this poster that had a profound effect on me, as a kid just discovering his love of motion pictures.

The film features another actor I am a huge fan of, Peter Lorre. Seeing Bogart and Lorre together was a treat. While I was a fan of Lorre due to his later horror pictures, where he was often times playing opposite of Vincent Price, Boris Karloff or Basil Rathbone, seeing his work when he was younger, is still a lot of fun and he holds his own among the heavyweights.

The acting in this is some of the best put to celluloid but that is just about every Bogart picture. The guy just had an uncanny and almost magical way in which he commanded the audience’s attention and transcended the screen. With Lorre, their scenes in particular are some of the best in Bogart’s legendary career. Mary Astor, Gladys George and Sydney Greenstreet also add a certain level of quality to the picture. Elisha Cook Jr. also showed up with his best foot forward.

Most film-noir experts credit this picture for giving birth to this genre that no one realized was a genre for a few decades. It is distinctly noir in its twists and turns and its femme fatale. It uses a high contrast visual style, similar to what was seen in German Expressionist pictures of the 1920s. But there is just something pristine about this movie’s visual presentation. It has a silvery and majestic allure.

At the time of The Maltese Falcon‘s release, quality mystery films were most associated with British directors like Alfred Hitchcok and Carol Reed. This proved that Hollywood could hang with the genre and as was stated in the last paragraph, this was a film that birthed a storytelling and stylistic movement in American motion pictures.

Coming out the same year as Citizen Kane, these two films redefined how filmmaking techniques could evolve. Pictures would become more artistic and less straightforward. John Huston, like Orson Welles, gave the world something unique and new.

The Maltese Falcon is a near perfect picture. It falls short of Citizen Kane when looking at the best pictures of 1941 but in any other year, this could easily be the best film. It boasts technical prowess, dynamite acting and as cool as Bogart was, he was never as cool as he was here, as Sam Spade.

Film Review: The Prowler (1951)

Release Date: May 25th, 1951
Directed by: Joseph Losey
Written by: Dalton Trumbo (uncredited), Hugo Butler (a front for Trumbo), Robert Thoeren, Hans Wilhelm
Music by: Lyn Murray
Cast: Van Heflin, Evelyn Keyes

Horizon Pictures, United Artists, 92 Minutes

Review:

“I didn’t do it, Susan. I’ll swear that by the only thing I ever really loved and that’s you.” – Webb Garwood

The Prowler is a film-noir with a strange twist, the femme fatale isn’t femme at all, it’s actually a man and a jerk cop to be exact.

In this picture, a woman calls the police because she notices a peeping tom outside her window. The cops show up and one of them is immediately infatuated with the woman, who just happens to be married to a rich radio personality that is never home at night because he has a show to do. The cop starts showing up every night and seduces the woman into falling in love with him. All the while, the cop is planning to murder the woman’s husband, marry her and get the money from the dead man’s insurance policy.

This is typical noir type stuff but the evil puppet master is not a woman this time. Maybe one could argue that this was the first socially progressive film-noir. It didn’t seem to be playing off of the fear that women having power over men would lead to evil. I’m not sure if the twist was intentional or if the writers didn’t really put that much thought into it. Still, it provides a unique story nonetheless.

Ultimately, the film is incredibly effective. For one, it is really unpredictable and goes in unforeseeable directions. Even if you are thinking the worst, it swerves in ways that are still shocking. It’s a pretty nasty film for what it is. It has a certain grit that just feels dirty, even for a film-noir.

The camerawork is quite stellar and the outdoor expanse in the final act of the film is well captured and presented. The overall production design and interior sets are equally impressive. The house of the woman, where the bulk of this picture takes place in the first half, is both attractive and alluring while also being cold and haunting. It is like an opulently dressed void that reflects luxury and emptiness.

The sexual misconduct of the main characters isn’t anything new in a film-noir but somehow the actors are able to make it feel dirtier than what the audience is used to. You don’t immediately see the cop as a figure of evil but there is still an underlying sinister edge to his words and actions. Van Heflin is just as much a macho seducer as he is a conniving creeper.

There are a lot of interesting layers to the picture, most of them dark. But it really stands out amongst a sea of film-noir. I’m not saying it is one of the best pictures in the genre but it is a different experience than what one would expect and it did catch me by surprise.

Video Game Review: L.A. Noire (PlayStation 3)

Being both a fan of film-noir and several video games put out by Rockstar over the years, L.A. Noire should be a pretty awesome experience for me. It was a mixed bag but the game falls mostly on the positive side.

It benefits from the fact that it stars an actor from Mad Men, one of my favorite shows of the last decade or so and it even has cameos by other Mad Men actors. A few familiar faces will pop up throughout the game. There are no major stars but you do see certain characters played by actors you’ll recognize from various things. I had a lot of, “Oh, wait! That’s that guy from that thing!” moments.

L.A. Noire follows the same sort of gaming style as Grand Theft Auto or Red Dead Redemption. However, being that it forces you to be a cop that performs “by the book”, it makes the game more limited than those other games from Rockstar. You don’t have the freedom to make moral choices and thus, the free roam aspect of the game isn’t a true free for all. I wish you had the ability to walk a different path but the game’s story and the purpose it serves is still entertaining and worth your time.

You mostly play as Cole Phelps, who is played by Aaron Staton. You are an ex-Marine from World War II with a past that comes back to have a major effect on the overall story. Within the main timeline of the game, Phelps starts out as a patrol cop and moves into being a detective, moving around into different branches based off of how he is promoted or demoted. However, these promotions and demotions aren’t really based off of anything you can control.

The graphics are solid, the motion capture is absolutely top notch and this game utilized it in ways that no other game had before it. It is certainly innovative and impressive and the motion capture work is what makes this game come alive and what provides the unique experience of interviewing characters and making decisions based off of how they physically react to your questions and evidence.

L.A. Noire has been out for a while now and I hope it becomes a franchise in the same vein as GTA and Red Read. I guess time will tell but quite some time has already passed.