Bladerunner 2049 (2017)

Director: Dennis Villeneuve Cast: Ryan Gosling, Harrison Ford, Ana de Armas, Jared Leto, Sylvia Hoeks, Robin Wright

Set 30 years after the original Bladerunner, Officer K is tasked with uncovering the mystery of a replicant that was able to give birth. His search uncovers some surprising clues and ultimately leads him to seek help from the retired bladerunner Deckard, who has been missing since the events of the previous film.

It’s safe to say- and I think plenty of people would agree- that this is the best film I’ve seen all year. As it’s a sequel I was understandably skeptical, however it really doesn’t feel like a sequel for the sake of a sequel (i.e. more money at the box office) but is simply a really solid film with a plot that pretty much stands on its own and is worthy of the hype by itself, and not because it’s attached to the original cult classic.

I went to see this in IMAX 3D and it was totally worth the exorbitant ticket price of £23 (ouch). I knew that I had wanted to see this in IMAX because the original is so well known for the visuals, and this one lives up to that- actually, I would say the visuals in Bladerunner 2049 are better thanks to improved technology today compared to the 1982 original. LA is suitably claustrophobic, and the deserted city where Deckard has been hiding is also done really well. You could happily watch this movie just for the cinematic experience alone, and it showcases perfectly what can be done with film from an artistic perspective.

Now, Bladerunner 2049 is a whopping 164 minutes long. However, I struggle to to think of a scene that wasn’t integral or relevant to the plot, and so the whole film absorbs your attention. It’s a slow burner for sure but it leaves the audience plenty of time to think about and ponder what’s going on. You get plenty of films nowadays that easily reach the two hour mark, but with this one I felt that it was made to be so long so that the viewer can really appreciate it as a film with a story to be told and considered, rather than just a blockbuster with action sequence after action sequence for modern audiences with short attention spans (The Avengers films spring to mind…). There are also a lot of characters, but again each one is important and adds something to the plot, even if it’s just to add characterisation for someone else. It’s refreshing to have a film made nowadays because someone truly wants to make a great film that can be appreciated as just that, not because they want easy money at the box office.

The one tiny, minuscule issue I did have was that the end kiiiiind of leaves it open for a sequel. Like I say, this is just a brilliant film on its own and it doesn’t need another one just for the sake of it. That said, this one is a sequel itself so by no means will another sequel be bad, but it’s been 35 years since the original so if another sequel were to come soon I wouldn’t be able to avoid the thought that they’re just cashing in on the success of Bladerunner 2049.

This is an excellent film and I absolutely recommend it to people who want something a bit different to the usual mindless blockbusters we get nowadays. Furthermore it’s just a beautiful film to look at, regardless of the plot. Fans of the original will obviously enjoy it, but I went with a friend who hadn’t seen it (and also isn’t really into sic-fi) and she loved it too. Basically, however you are, go and watch this film.

5 stars

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Star Wars: Attack of the Clones (2002)

Director: George Lucas Cast: Hayden Christensen, Ewan McGregor, Natalie Portman, Samuel L Jackson, Christopher Lee, Ian McDiarmid, Frank Oz

The films I sit through for the sake of this blog, I tell you. Set 10 years after the events of The Phantom Menace, Anakin is now well into his Jedi training under the guidance of Obi-Wan. After an attempt on Padmé’s life Anakin is tasked with guarding her, while Obi-Wan goes off to find the perpetrators and discovers a clone army in the making. Also the one where Obi-Wan hates flying and Anakin hates sand.

Easily the worst of all the Star Wars films, it’s hard to find any positives. If you thought the acting was bad in The Phantom Menace, think again. To be fair, the actors are again not helped by a poor script and jumpy storyline, but the outstanding characters by a long distance are Mace Windu and Count Dooku- Samuel L Jackson and Christopher Lee respectively (who can basically do no wrong in my eyes). Mace Windu’s purple lightsaber just about saves us from oblivion.

In terms of relevance to the Star Wars story arc, this is the film where we start to see Anakin’s temptation towards the Dark Side. As I mentioned in my review of The Phantom Menace, the Anakin in this film is pretty much a completely different person. I know people can change a lot over 10 years but this is just taking the biscuit. And why does he suddenly have a thing for Padmé? There was no inkling in that in the previous instalment, yet right from the start of Attack of the Clones it’s integral to the storyline. It just doesn’t make any sense I tell you!!

Plot continuity/realism aside, I do appreciate that his love for Padmé is vital to his eventual downfall. However, I can see much more evidence of his move to the Dark Side when his mother is killed by Tuscan Raiders and he slaughters the whole group of them in revenge. His anguish regarding his mother makes far more sense than his out-of-nowhere passion for Padmé, and therefore it’s more convincing in showing and explaining his downfall.

As for the rest of the film, not much else happens to be honest. It’s hard to follow who’s doing what and where and why and working on behalf of whom. Basically, the film takes more than two hours to show that: 1. Anakin is being drawn to the Dark Side (could be done with that one Tusken Raiders scene, 10 minutes tops); and 2. Palpatine is pretty much manipulating everyone to take over the Republic and become Emperor. While The Phantom Menace is quite good at kicking off the storyline that leads to the creation of the Empire, Attack of the Clones doesn’t really advance the process at all. In summary, most of the events of this film are basically irrelevant.

Is this film worth watching? To be honest, no. Even an avid Star Wars fan like myself can skip this one and won’t miss much of the geekery associated with the Star Wars universe. Don’t waste your time by putting yourself through the struggle of watching Anakin describe how much he hates sand.

1.5 stars (that extra half is for you, Mace Windu)

Star Wars: The Phantom Menace (1999)

Director: George Lucas Cast: Liam Neeson, Ewan McGregor, Natalie Portman, Jake Lloyd, Ian McDiarmid, Frank Oz, Samuel L Jackson

The first of the notorious Star Wars prequels, The Phantom Menace kicks off Anakin Skywalker’s storyline that sets him on the path to becoming a Jedi, and ultimately a Sith. After a chance encounter with two Jedis on Tatooine, Anakin is taken to start training as a Jedi himself.  Meanwhile, Senator Palpatine plots to take over the Republic by provoking (and this is the really thrilling bit) trade disputes.

When I first saw this at the cinema as a kid, I loved this movie. Obviously now, however, my cinema palate has matured and I can see that it’s actually pretty rubbish, but to be honest I have to give it credit for giving me the same enjoyment that I had when I first watched the originals. The plot and particularly acting (with a couple of exceptions- more on that later) is pants but generally speaking the film does embody classic Star Wars elements- the sound effects, the screen wipes, the aliens, and it’s actually cool to see Yoda et al before the events of A New Hope.

I’ll start with the bad points to get them out of the way. My main issue is that I just can’t find it believable that the Anakin from The Phantom Menace goes on to be Darth Vader. Obviously there are two more movies before he finally gets there, but there’s just no hint at all of his susceptibility to the dark side, or to be honest even his Jedi skills. Qui-Gon just “senses” that Anakin is really powerful- but as a viewer I just can’t join the two together. Sure he’s a good pilot, but so is Han Solo and I don’t think his flying reflexes are evidence enough of his so-called powers. It makes the leap into the next instalment, Attack of the Clones, unconvincing as he’s basically had a total personality transplant. Darth Vader is such an iconic character and the whole point of the Star Wars saga is effectively the rise, fall and redemption of Anakin Skywalker, but this movie just doesn’t build him up enough to become the badass but ultimately heroic character that we see by Return of the Jedi. It’s hard to tell if it’s the script or the acting that makes it not work (probably a combination of both), but either way Anakin is a let-down.

Other minor problems include the cringe-inducing script- the original trilogy is full of excellent lines that have become iconic in cinema, but can anyone remember anything from this? There’s also Jar Jar Binks- arguably the most universally hated Star Wars character but aside from his general grating personality, he doesn’t bring anything to the plot really so is surplus to requirements. There are a couple of casual racist stereotypes too, in the form of the trade federation reps and the Gungans. Finally, just the bad acting in general: too much stilted and unconvincing delivery, and I think the abundance of characters put quantity over quality.

The other main issue people have with this movie is the plot. Yes, it’s pretty dull but actually as a Star Wars fan I do think the events of this film are important. It paves the way to how we end up with the Rebel Alliance and the events of the original trilogy, and given what I’ve said above about the Anakin story-arc, the Senator Palpatine/Emperor story-arc actually works well in the prequel trilogy and is one of the trilogy’s overall redeeming features. As a kid I had very little idea of what was actually going on, but now as an adult I watch it thinking “ah, so that’s how that happened”. Perhaps it’s fair to say the key points are there but the execution fell short of the mark.

To end on a high note, the positives. Qui-Gon and Obi-Wan are super cool and it was good to have some context for Obi-Wan’s and Darth Vader’s relationship. While the script is terrible, both Liam Neeson and Ewan McGregor manage to salvage their characters and they’re easily the highlight of the movie. (Mace Windu- Samuel L Jackson- is in this, but he doesn’t really get going yet until the next episode.) Darth Maul is also awesome, and while he only gets about three spoken lines (probably best given the rest of the script) he has some seriously cool moves in the final fight scene.

This isn’t the worst of the prequels but also I’d say not the best. In terms of storyline it’s good for Star Wars nerds for the general context/history of the Republic and the Empire, but for those who are lukewarm towards the originals I would say probably best not to bother as it won’t add anything for them.

2 stars

A Trip to the Moon (1902)

trip-to-the-moon

Director: Georges Méliès Cast: uncredited

A group of astronomers take a trip to the moon. (Who would have guessed from the title?)

Bit of a weird one this, but bear with me. In the numerous coffee-table books on films that I’ve collected, this is pretty much always the first one on the list of ones to watch. This 1902 short film (12 minutes, and it’s on YouTube) is generally credited as being one of the first popular films. It brought special effects into the mainstream, and despite its length manages a substantial plot and even some anti-imperialist satire.

It definitely helped to watch this film with my 1902 Edwardian-era hat on, in order to appreciate the film in the way that it would have been appreciated at the time. I was actually really surprised at how good the effects were for the time. For example, the aliens that live on the moon suddenly vanish in a flash of smoke, and it doesn’t look clunky by any means. The face on the moon (which admittedly is the stuff of nightmares) is cleverly superimposed- I didn’t even know they could do that as early as then. It’s also interesting to remember that no one had actually been to the moon at that time- so it really was just science fiction for people to travel there from Earth.

This, clearly, is a film you’d watch to study and appreciate the history of film, and not for settling into the sofa with a bowl of popcorn. Definitely recommended for discussing at dinner parties to make you seem sophisticated and erudite.

Hard to rate this one… 3 stars?