Archive for Roger Deakins

Less Human Than Human

Posted in FILM, literature, MUSIC with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on October 9, 2017 by dcairns

One line of thought. Probably spurious. On seeing Denis Villeneuve’s ARRIVAL right after the 2016 presidential election, I was struck by how it felt like an optimistic statement — despite our stupid differences, humankind manage cooperate among ourselves and with the strolling heptapods — a movie aimed at that branch of the multiverse where Hillary won. BLADE RUNNER 2049, arriving hot on its heels (how did he manage that?) — with its polluted, post-nuclear police state, is aimed squarely at the Trump Parallel. Since escapism sells, it was ARRIVAL that was the hit.

It’s like somebody said about Kubrick: 2001 was the future we could have had; CLOCKWORK ORANGE was what we were going to get.

As shot by Roger Deakins — excuse me, Roger A. Deakins (where did the A come from?) — 2049 looks really good — I mean, REALLY good — and the performances are excellent, with a very committed Ryan Gosling and Harrison Ford and an interesting bunch of relative newcomers supporting them. Poor Robin Wright has to find a new way to play an ice queen, but ever resourceful, she does it. And the story is OK — it avoids the Damon Lindelof approach of simply reconfiguring the original elements and rehashing them out of sequence with the roles switched. But we were vaguely engaged without being particularly excited by the movie.

We’d just seen a bunch of movie trailers and they were ALL for sequels, two of them superhero franchises, one of them the JUMANJI reboot (which seemed to show the most originality, grading on a curve). And BLADE RUNNER 2049 is a superior sort of belated sequel — it’s largely faithful to its source, and not only reproduces familiar design elements (the recurring Mayan kitchen) but concocts new ones that seem quite in keeping as well as being beautiful in themselves (dustbowl Vegas, Dave Bautista’s brown lounge). It has a precise sense of the original’s sick, slightly kinky violence, gialloesque, chilling and inventive. But we didn’t care too much.

There are clever touches — the ads for Atari and Pan-Am that “date” the original film are repeated, and a “Product of CCCP” logo confirms that this is an alternate future, so that it doesn’t matter that Leon’s incept date was 2017 in the first movie, and yet artificial Brion Jameses are not available in the shops this Christmas. The Peugeot and Sony signs are pure product placement, though — I only hope the well-documented (by me, right now) Curse of Blade Runner will swoop down and send those corporations spiralling into administration the way it did to the games company and the airline. But clever touches don’t necessarily make us care about a movie’s characters or story or even themes.

Impossible to explain such a visceral thing, and I’m not certain our response is of any use to anyone else — best to provisionally accept the positive things listed above and see it for yourself. It’s worth seeing.

I guess one problem is that the movie does seem to aim for a fairly straightforward kind of emotional appeal in its ending, and that somehow didn’t come off for us. And even if it had, I think it would have been less interesting than the original movie. Ridley Scott’s films tries halfheartedly to be about Rick Deckard but comes to life when dealing with Roy Batty, a much more original hero with a more pressing problem to solve. The fact that his methods are “questionable” just makes him more interesting. And while the movie’s attempts to find an emotional arc for Deckard are so ineffectual that the subsequent director’s cuts (two of them?) can chop off his last scene and nobody misses it, the emotions it rouses for Batty are, though conflicted, huge and operatic — that’s why I used a frame grab of the elevator scene in my previous BR post. Batty has just killed his father — God — and is breathing deeply of the strange new possibilities around him — while at the same time falling, falling, away from the heavens.

To get anywhere near that, 2049 would have to have been about its own most interesting, scary and transgressive character, Luv, ferociously played by Sylvia Hoeks. But she is very far from being even the chief antagonist — she’s a henchwoman for Jared Leto. And Leto’s wacko billionaire is the film’s most hackneyed element, and nonsensical to boot — always complaining that replicants are too difficult to manufacture, while randomly killing perfectly good replicants every time we see him.

The first film is about all kinds of stuff, but as Batty’s story resonates most deeply, it seems to mainly be about mortality. The second film seems to be almost straightforwardly about slavery — an important subject in the first movie too, but a less universal one. And in the original, since the replicants are escapees when we first meet them, slavery is relegated to backstory and is less an active theme. Death is the problem. In this sequel, our hero is a slave — maybe we need more convincing information about how he breaks his programming? But the story of his gradual growth beyond the limits imposed on him should be touching. I do actually hold out hope that this may kick in more on a second viewing.

2049 is a kind of replicant movie — beautiful, complex, elegant, closely resembling what it’s modelled on and undeniably made with enormous skill — but crucially lacking some important, indefinable inner ingredient. If the first film is cold — and it is — but possessed of some kind of weird, nameless Wagnerian emotion of its own — the sequel tries to do something commendable but less interesting — tell a touching human story — and doesn’t really quite manage it. (The two times I did feel some emotion: early on when we see Gosling’s K being the victim of prejudice; when he loses his cyber-partner; when he sees her porno billboard Doppelganger. Which suggests that Ford’s excellent performance is essentially a distraction from what should be Gosling’s movie.)

“I suppose that was the best BLADE RUNNER sequel we could ask for,” mused Fiona, doubtfully. But we never asked for one. “Well, maybe if they’d hired the OTHER writer,*” I mused, just as doubtfully.

*David Peoples, co-writer of BLADE RUNNER, also co-wrote THE UNFORGIVEN and 12 MONKEYS. Hampton Fancher, co-writer of BLADE RUNNER and 2049, is a former flamenco dancer once married to Sue Lyon, which is also pretty cool.

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Into the Night

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , on November 28, 2016 by dcairns

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Having enjoyed ARRIVAL, we went back in time and watched director Denis Villeneuve’s previous hit. SICARIO. It’s very impressive, but we were less convinced by the “human killing machine” tropes which climax it than we had been by the hellish drug war developments of the first two acts. Shot by the always-impressive Roger Deakins, it has a more classical style than ARRIVAL (Deakins weaned the Coens off the wide angle lens, and seems to have drawn Villeneuve away from extreme depth of field long lens stuff, but I’ll have to see even earlier Villeneuves to know if my guess is accurate) with several of the impressive dusk scenes that distinguished NO COUNTRY FOR OLD MEN (cartoon violence by comparison with this). The above image is just about all we see of a harrowing torture scene — imagination does the rest.

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And then there’s this one, which recalls the closing shot of FULL METAL JACKET. The deceptive approach to perspective is an incidental pleasure which may not mean anything: the foreground figures’ bulk emphasises their closeness, but the low angle and silhouette effect makes them seem to be the same distance away as the line of smaller figures. Giants and dwarfs walking together. A Wellesian defiance of space, in the service of graphic impact.

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But the fact that, as the figures advance, they sink below the horizon line, swallowed up by the same liquid darkness they’re composed of, gives the sequence a doom-laden quality, as if the men are descending into the Underworld, or beneath the surface of a dark ocean. Chills.

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In-Flight Mentaltainment

Posted in Comics, FILM, Television with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on February 5, 2015 by dcairns

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Movies seen while going to America —

EDGE OF TOMORROW, directed by Doug Liman and written by THE USUAL SUSPECTS’ Christopher McQuarrie along with mockney specialists the Butterworth Brothers, which was really good by big Hollywood standards. Emily Blunt excellent as always — I knew she could do almost anything but I couldn’t have sworn she could be bad-ass. Tom Cruise is also really well-used, and has a huge character arc, starting out a bit like James Garner in THE AMERICANIZATION OF EMILY or if Don Draper got drafted. It’s really funny to see Cruise playing a conflict-averse wuss. And by the end he has of course become an unstoppable killing machine on the side of good. Yes, it’s GROUNDHOG DAY meets INDEPENDENCE DAY, but it’s refreshing to see a film with so many interesting narrative notions.

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By contrast —

The recent GODZILLA remake has a scene with an upturned Eiffel Tower, just like EDGE OF TOMORROW, but the one in the kaiju knock-off is the miniature imitation version in Vegas, which kind of sums up the relationship GODZILLA has to a proper movie. Thanks to some hectic editing they even manage to make Bryan Cranston look like a bad actor. If you’ve ever wanted to see Juliette Binoche outrunning an explosion, this is the film for you, and I hope you choke on it.

Fans complained that there was a bare minimum of the big green guy, and not very much of Cranston. The filmmakers had completely miscalculated their audience’s needs, like the makers of the previous US GODZILLA, who thought the public wanted Godzilla as an atomic bad guy stomping on cities for kicks. The great minds at Legendary Pictures grasped the fact that Godzilla, as he is known and tolerated by millions, is thought of as a benevolent colossus who breaths radioactive fire on other, nastier monsters, and only kills thousands of people by accident, a bit like America or Israel. What they failed to grasp is that audiences want to look at Godzilla doing these things for longer than ten minutes out of two hours. Ideally, what the film should have delivered is a 300 foot tall Bryan Cranston, in his Heisenberg guise (“Say my name!”), fighting the big lizard all over New Mexico. Or else Bryan Craston AS Godzilla, with Aaron Paul as Godzooky*.

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Pierce Brosnan is walking away from this explosion because it Simply Doesn’t Interest Him.

I usually seek out bad movies to watch on planes because I don’t like to see good ones “adjusted to fit my screen” or “edited for content.” THE NOVEMBER MAN isn’t totally awful — maybe it’s the best film Roger Donaldson could make now —  but the only thing that could have made it memorable would be a downbeat, 70s-style ending. A happy ending on a thing like this (spy thriller) suggests that the security services are basically benign and that rotten eggs will be filtered out (with one of those egg filters you can buy in the shops, I suppose — couldn’t find a way to write this sentence without a mixed metaphor) and that leaves the movie feeling pretty inconsequential.

Olga Kurylenko looks amazing, though, and after she gets over a regrettable impulse to smile on one side of her mouth to convey ‘tude, she acts well. Pierce Brosnan is someone I always enjoy, though I’m a bit fed up of him always playing a widower. It’s started to feel like a tacky exploitation of his own biography. He’s a fun presence, though — I watched PERCY JACKSON & THE LIGHTNING THIEF on a plane once, and the sight of him as a centaur was inexplicably hilarious. They should really have cast him as the statue of Talos from JASON AND THE ARGONAUTS though, so they could have the credit “with Pierce Brosnan as Bronze Person.”

Movies seen returning from America —

Flying back home was somehow much quicker. I watched an episode of Louie and one of Veep, neither of which I’d gotten around to. Clearly I will have to see more, they were both excellent. Man with hangover in Veep: “Find me a hamburger made out of aspirin, I’m going to get some air and be sick in it.”

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Then Fiona and I watched HOW TO DRAIN TRAIN YOUR DRAGON II, which was very nice, as good as the first one. Excellent vocal perfs, beautiful images (Roger Deakins advised on the virtual cinematography, as he did on RANGO), great action and storytelling and a lot of emotion. This one felt more like a flattering portrait of America — we always seek peace but if we need to fight, we will kick ass” (like GODZILLA) which made me feel a little uncomfortable. But for sheer craft approaching artistry, I couldn’t fault it.

Then I looked at X-MEN: DAYS OF FUTURE PAST (the title seems a riff on killer Bob’s rhyme in Twin Peaks) which was something of a return to form for Bryan Singer, only the plane landed seconds before it was over. It has the best bullet-time ever, with cheeky Evan Peters running around the walls of a circular room like a cross between Fred Astaire and Gary Lockwood.

The movie is action-packed, has a reasonably complicated story, and the dispute between Professor Xavier’s get-along-with-the-humans philosophy and Magneto’s kill-them-before-they-kill us attitude remains compelling, even as all the other characters are more interesting AS characters. And somehow, Jennifer Lawrence fighting in blue rubber pasties never got boring to look at.

BTW, United Airlines have the best safety film I’ve ever seen. We saw it twice in a week and didn’t get bored. The idea is novel, the production values immense, it’s all very slick, there’s some wit, but what helps most of all are the little non-professional moments, such as the flight attendant at around 1.54 who can’t stop laughing for unknown reasons.

*Purists will say that any miniature Godzilla should be called Minilla, after the pudgy reptile star of SON OF GODZILLA, but I recall the Hanna-Barbera series The Godzilla Power Hour, which, though completely without any artistic merit whatsoever, was, episode by episode, a lot shorter than any Godzilla film from either Toho or Tristar or Legendary.