Blade Runner 2049

Release: 2017
Director: Denis Villeneuve
Cast: Ryan Gosling, Robin Wright, Harrison Ford, Jared Leto, Ana De Armas, Sylvia Hoeks

Written by Abbie Eales

Ridley Scott’s 1982 dystopian sci-fi epic ‘Blade Runner’ saw Harrison Ford playing Deckard, one of the titular blade runners, who had been tasked with hunting down and killing four replicants, (extremely life-like androids), who had escaped from the colonies and were now posing a threat to human life in the city of Los Angeles. The film is filled with stark and beautiful imagery, philosophical musings on the nature of humanity and love, and is scored by a wonderful soundtrack by Vangelis.

When it emerged there was a sequel in the works, with Harrison Ford attached to star again hearts sank. Let’s face it, ‘Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull’ was almost bad enough to turn the world off the originals, so bringing Ford back to the role of Deckard 35 years later did not seem like solid thinking. Then it was announced that Ryan Gosling was attached, an actor who has been extremely canny in his choice of roles, seemingly not having made a recent mis-step. Once ‘Arrival’ and ‘Sicario’s’ Denis Villeneuve was announced as director, hopes were raised once more. But would this be the thoughtful sequel the world wanted or clumsy “re-energising” and potential franchise starter?

Blade Runner 2049 continues the hunt for artificial humans, 30 years on from the original, echoing the real-life passage of time since Ridley Scott’s classic hit the big screen. Gosling plays K, a blade runner who has been charged with rounding up and dispatching the last of the old model replicants, the last of the robots with free will. To say much more about the plot could ruin the experience, as this is a near perfect piece of cinema which should be enjoyed to the full.

From the opening shot of a single ice-blue eye filling the screen, to the inclusion of a clear plastic raincoat, ‘Blade Runner 2049’ is perfectly respectful of its predecessor while taking some of its beautiful imagery to even more extraordinary places. The film is stunning, mildly disorienting and borderline surreal, quietly worming its way under your skin over the course of its 2 hour 43 minute run-time.

Roger Deakins’ cinematography is just sublime. Every shot in the film is near perfect. The design of costumes and make-up is among the best I’ve seen, subtle but always adding to character. The soundtrack, by Hans Zimmer and Benjamin Wallfisch, is by turns a thundering juggernaut of mechanical crunches and shudders and then delicate piano notes, giving way to the space-age echoes of Vangelis work on the original.

Every single member of the cast is superb, with Villeneuve eliciting some career-best performances. Ford adds multiples layers to his usual curmudgeon-with-a-heart turn, embracing an unusual vulnerability. Gosling is quietly enigmatic, channelling his turn in Drive. The real stand out among the cast is Sylvia Hoeks as Luv, who manages to be both eerily serene and utterly terrifying.

‘Blade Runner 2049’ may also be Villeneuve’s best work to date. Taking time to really linger on key scenes, to build tension, but also to allow the audience to think and take in not just the visuals but the concepts being shown to them, it’s an extremely confident and uncompromising piece of cinema.

It is an absolute marvel of film-making, a thoughtful, beautiful piece of art. Profound, moving, intellectual and solid evidence that studios can make blockbusters that might also win Academy awards. Go see it big and loud and be left breathless by the spectacle.

Abbie’s Rating: 10 out of 10

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Flatliners

Year: 2017
Director: Niels Arden Oplev
Cast: Ellen Page, James Norton, Nina Dobrev, Diego Luna, Kiersey Clemons

Written by Jo Craig

The premise of quizzical Med students prepared to temporarily stop their hearts in order to obtain scientific and spiritual research from the afterlife, is a fascinating subject to explore even twenty-seven years after Joel Schumacher’s first encounter with the intriguing idea. The uncertainty of death is a relentless “big question” and a timeless topic for debate between the man of science and the man of faith that can translate into a gripping story… if executed carefully. This fall, Danish director Niels Arden Oplev is on call embarking on his endeavour with the great beyond, uniting with an alternative cast primed with adrenaline that ultimately become smothered under the weight of an unrefined rehash.

2017’s ‘Flatliners’ introduces medical student Courtney (Ellen Page) who is deeply distracted from her studies by a festering side project; an experiment to stop her heart or “flatline” in order to gain enlightenment and provide documentation of how our brains respond after death. After recruiting a team of four colleagues who gradually partake in her growing obsession, Courtney soon realises that tempting death comes with a price that alters the lives of all who tamper with it.

Schumacher’s original nineties production became somewhat of a cult success in the later years of its existence, combining eighties stars Kiefer Sutherland and Kevin Bacon with rising star Julia Roberts in a thought-provoking plot for the start of an action-packed decade that eventually succeeded in its obscurity, much like ‘Jacob’s Ladder’. On the grounds that cult treasures should remain untouched, the news of a redo was met with catatonic dismay from the general public, as zero interest was shown towards another steroid-induced horror with overactive big kids and their inflated ego’s looking to get their jollies from breaking the rules while using the phrase “hashtag flatline”. While hashtag’s thankfully remained silent, the outcome of Oplev’s modernisation was far from a trending phenomenon.

Breaking down what initially and conclusively was a disjointed cast, indie-comedy favourite Ellen Page spends a majority of ‘Flatliners’ holding the trembling hands of her supporting cast, while by no means creating a solid performance herself. Page has been under fire for accepting a role out with her usual genre, suspecting the part of lead flatliner as nothing more than a bonus pay check. ‘Grantchester’ alum James Norton and ‘The Vampire Diaries’ sweetheart Nina Dobrev appear unsettled in their roles as hot-shot Jamie and headstrong Margo, showing uncertainty against the material they’ve been given to recreate. ‘Rogue One’’s Diego Luna provides some grounding acting opposing newcomer Kiersey Clemons who has been named “a star on the rise” that regrettably failed to shine during any point of the production. This perplexing party of five failed to push the experience or summon the compatibility to make their rebellious bond believable, jilting Page to grind the plot forward while Luna remained shackled by a smaller role.

‘Flatliners’ grasps the main concept of its predecessor, but loses all momentum in deciding where its priorities lie and what genre provides the best platform to export those morals. In 1990 we were watching a classic sci-fi horror designed to last the test of time, however our present day rendition delivers a puzzling concoction of teen drama with cheap psych thriller in a lab of glossy sci-fi tainted with hand-me-down horror; a smorgasbord of careless niche crowd-pleasing. By the third act, we as an audience are feeling alienated after a shock conclusion to the second act, winding down with a wild surge towards time of death being called and body bag filled with abolished investment.  

With only the minor works of ‘The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo’ and ‘Dead Man Down’ under his belt, Oplev struggles to deliver the gravitas or originality to make this remake worthy of being reborn, igniting a small injection of tactful imagery and ideas that loses its novelty rather quickly. A middling script penned by ‘Source Code’’s Ben Ripley and aided by original screenwriter, Peter Filardi hindered the films progress from fully exploring the girth of such a morbid practice and the impulse that pushes each character to engage our primal need to find answers. Key scenes involving the students “flatlining” episodes could have been the window to explore the distinctive psyche of each individual, building a robust connection with our protagonists instead of being teased with an informal introduction and a limp handshake.

All in all, ‘Flatliners’ was one ceaseless beep with no thrill and zero depth, doing its cliché rounds while the audience delved further and further into a vegetative state, only showing signs of life when Ellen Page cracked a smile or when the CPR got a bit hairy. While many predict this to be the bomb of the October box office, fans of ‘The Vampire Diaries’ will probably enjoy a Sunday evening tickle, while fans of Schumacher’s midnight movie will be eager to pronounce this nineties itch dead on arrival.

An unofficial warning from JUMPCUT: Epinephrine should be administered before viewing.

Jo’s Rating: 4 out of 10

Terminator 2: Judgement Day (3D)

Year:  1991 (2D), 2017 (3D)
Director: James Cameron
Starring: Arnold Schwarzenegger, Linda Hamilton, Edward Furlong, Robert Patrick

Written by Chris Gelderd

So much can be said about a film as important and ground-breaking as this after over 25 years of constant adoration and cultural significance. This time, however, director James Cameron brings us a newly restored 4K 137 min theatrical release that has also been converted to 3D.

I would like to think 90% of cinema audiences and film fans have, since 1991, seen this film, but if not, I will provide a review of the film itself and then the 4K/3D conversion. As the film will have been and gone from its one night showing at the time of this review going live, it will be available to purchase soon on Blu-ray.

Thankfully securing many original faces such as the $15m paid Arnold Schwarzenegger and the $1m paid Linda Hamilton returning from the 1984 original, young Edward Furlong joins the cast as a fiery young John Connor perfectly. All three form the perfect dysfunctional family, with the “father figure” in the guise of a cyborg killer wonderfully developed by Schwarzenegger, thanks to an expanded role as the Terminator which gives him more room to flesh out his character as Connor tries to teach him what it means to be human.

This leaves room for subtle humour injected into their relationship and is nice to see without turning the Terminator into a comedy side-kick. Schwarzenegger proves once more his role as the Terminator is his defining work thanks to his imposing image and delivery of the monotone lines. He never fails to showcase his talent for action scenes in this film, building on the under-lying nightmarish character he is still from the original. However you could see all this a double-edged sword; more humanity means less of the cold cyborg killer and increased one-liners and family friendly “no killing” rules.

And of course we have Robert Patrick as the uber-advanced T-1000 liquid metal shape shifting Terminator which straight away makes the T-800 seem out of date and clunky. Patrick is the efficient killer that Schwarzenegger was in the 1984 original, but seemingly more humane and created to blend into the crowd more. Patrick embodies the role perfectly; focused, cunning, effective and ruthless. But he moves and acts in a fluid way that likens his model Terminator a Porsche, and makes the T-800 look like a Panzer tank.

Supported by Joe Morton as Miles Dyson, future creator of SkyNet, and the return of Earl Boen as hapless Dr Silberman, they all add to the story in which that all play a vital part in some way.

Technically, the mise-en-scene and cinematography in this film are some of his best work, and the diegetic sound is perfect. Everything seems to happen naturally, but you know Cameron has crafted everything to the last detail to create a vividly entertaining and powerful film. For example, most scenes with the T-1000 are coloured in a hazy blue to signify the robotic, synthetic quality he is. The soundtrack is full of repetitive, machine like riffs that accompany both Terminators’ on screen to give a nightmarish and artificial presence to their scenes, as well as “slasher” horror shocks and scares.

An example of Cameron’s attention to detail is the focus on the T-800. All camera angles focused Schwarzenegger are at a lower angle to remind us of his giant stature and power in every scene. It’s then heart-breaking to note that the only time we look down on the broken T-800 is the final moments, making his fate more emotional than any other aspect of the film, and probably the series, thanks to these simple technical moves and acting talent.

Special mention has to be for Stan Winston and his team for the ground-breaking special effects. 26 years later and I am still amazed how well the transition between actor Robert Patrick and his CG T-1000 are blended better than most modern films. With the CGI used to enhance and create these futuristic killers rather than build a modern day world around them, there is less than 15 minutes of CGI creation used as it is done sparingly and never abused. Everything else is done for real with model work, miniatures, stunt doubles and brilliant make-up and costume. This is why it never seems to age, and you hear and feel all the gun shots, explosions and clashing metal.

With wonderfully gentle pacing to provide fans enough exposition about the creation of the SkyNet programme that forms the backbone to the whole series, Cameron takes his time between the stand out action sequences to develop character relationships and the reasons that they have all been brought together.

The continued fight between man and machine has never been more exciting as it has been portrayed here, and we get it now in crisp, clear 4K detail which really makes it a timeless looking piece of cinema. Yet it’s the 3D conversion that will add a new price-tag to the Blu-ray release in a few months.

Is it worth the money? Not for the 3D, no, and certainly not if you already own the film in any format. It seems 3D is now more of a gimmick that doesn’t add anything to many films bar depth, making characters and objects stand out now and then, which works well in the Future War scenes, but after that, sort of doesn’t stand out at all. In fact the only sequences I really felt the 3D come to life was during the Future War and the SWAT van / helicopter chase. Bar that, it wasn’t much to shout about. It was a little hazy around the edges of the screen too, with some objects out of focus – it wasn’t as sharp as other 3D conversions I’ve seen, and in this respect it detracted from the 4K restoration at times.

The 3D won’t add anything exciting to this film, except a couple of continuity tweaks, but the main draw was simply having the chance to see it on the big-screen for the first time, or the tenth time. It doesn’t matter. ‘Terminator 2: Judgment Day’ is one of those sequels we didn’t need, but are so thankful we got. Just don’t shell out for a 3D Blu-ray that you certainly don’t need for a film you probably already own in theatrical and extended versions anyway.

Chris’ Rating: 9.1 out of 10 | 3D Conversion –  4.1 out of 10

Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets

Year: 2017
Director: Luc Besson
Starring: Dane DeHaan, Cara Delevingne, Clive Owen, Rihanna, Ethan Hawke 

Written by Fiona Underhill

Well, it’s difficult to know where to start with this one. I am a fan of the director – I loved ‘Leon’ and ‘The Fifth Element’ and I have managed to avoid his more poorly received offerings (I’m looking at you, ‘Lucy’). I haven’t read the comics that this film is based on, although they certainly sound intriguing. As for the actors involved – well I’ve only seen Cara Delevingne in a small part in Anna Karenina before this, so wasn’t really sure what to expect. I would be interested to see her play a British character in a role, as I don’t think she has yet (in any of her high-profile work). As for Dane DeHaan, well there will be more on him later. 

So I think I can sum ‘Valerian’ up by saying; The Visuals = Good Bonkers, The Plot = Bad Bonkers. Believe me, it’s all bonkers. The visuals and effects in this film are insanely rich, detailed and sumptuous – it is an absolute feast for the eyes. It is easy to see where the enormous budget was splurged in this film, but unfortunately, I don’t think there is a hope of it making much of a profit. I could make some comparisons between ‘Valerian’ and the Star Wars prequels, but having rewatched ‘The Phantom Menace’ recently (don’t ask me why), it is clear to see that CGI has moved on in leaps and bounds in the last 15 years or so. 

I don’t really know where to begin with the plot to this film. There is an alien world which relies on pearls to be reproduced by feeding one to an aardvark-like creature, who then ‘poops’ out hundreds more – yes, really. Their planet is destroyed and a small group of the aliens manage to make it to ‘The City of a Thousand Planets’ – an enormous expanding space station, in which nearly all known species of the universe are represented. They need to find the one surviving pearl-pooping creature to be able to establish a new world for their people. Valerian (Dane DeHaan) and Laureline (Cara Delevingne) work for the government of the human population, as special operatives and they become embroiled in the plot to protect this unique alien creature and return it to the ‘right’ hands. 

Unfortunately, the dialogue in this film leaves much to be desired. The opening sequence features a fairly excruciating scene in which Valerian and Laureline TELL the audience everything they might need to know about their characters through clunky exposition. However, I can see why – if we didn’t have the characters telling us that Dane DeHaan is a ‘ladykiller’, it may be be difficult to work this out for ourselves. Dane DeHaan appears in two films this year, in which he is the romantic lead – to Cara Delevingne (the supermodel) and to Oscar-winning actress Alicia Vikander (in ‘Tulip Fever’ – out later this year). And I’m sorry, I just ain’t buying it. Don’t get me wrong, I liked him in ‘Chronicle’. But I do  wonder who has decided he has big-budget, mainstream leading man status. 

Back to the positives – how this film looks. As well as the CGI, the costumes are also incredible. There is an awesome sequence featuring Rihanna as a nightclub entertainer, who can change her appearance at will. Surprisingly, Ethan Hawke features – in a flamboyant performance – as the nightclub owner. Luckily, this part comes in the second half, when things are starting to flag in this overlong film. As well as Delevingne, there is more British acting talent involved – Clive Owen as the Commander and Sam Spruell as the General of the military outfit Valerian and Laureline work for. I do feel slightly sorry for middle-aged men with British teeth getting close-ups in super high definition these days. I couldn’t take my eyes off a blackhead on Owen’s top lip during his scenes, which may say something about how the mind wanders during films which are at least 30 minutes too long. 

Well – ‘Valerian’ is probably going to be looked back on as a giant turkey, which isn’t entirely fair. Of course, it is garishly multi-coloured bobbins on an insanely huge scale. It is, mostly, entertaining and the visual feast is almost worth your time and money. I just wish a more charming leading man (it isn’t often you’re praying for an Efron) could have been found to helm the madness and to give you someone to root for. However, if you’re looking for a 3D spectacular – this is it. Just a shame that it came out on the same weekend as ‘Dunkirk’, a visual feast of a very different type, but still something that has harmed ‘Valerian’, I think. I hope this doesn’t end up being some sort of death-knell for Luc Besson’s career, but at the same time wonder how on earth he managed to raise such a big budget for this level of craziness. Perhaps he should go back to something on the scale of ‘Leon’ next time. THAT I would like to see.

Fiona’s rating: 6.5 out of 10

 

War for the Planet of the Apes

Year: 2017
Director: Matt Reeves
Starring: Andy Serkis, Woody Harrelson, Steve Zahn, Karin Konoval, Terry Notary, Amiah Miller, Gabriel Chavarria

Written by Rhys Bowen Jones

The rebooted Planet of the Apes trilogy has had a strange existence. With ‘Rise of the Planet of the Apes’, it’s safe to say that most people were surprised at just how good the film was, better than it had any right to be, and becoming one of the surprise hits of 2011. Then along came ‘Dawn of the Planet of the Apes’ in 2014, a true blockbuster in every sense of the word by winning over audiences and critics alike thanks to its stunning visuals, compelling story, and wonderful performances. ‘Dawn’ stands tall as, for my money, one of the finest science-fiction films of the century. And yet, with ‘War’ upon us, the series as a whole isn’t yet mentioned alongside greats of cinema like ‘Back To The Future’, ‘Toy Story’, or ‘Lord of the Rings’. With Caesar’s return to the silver screen, Planet of the Apes has a series capper that manages to exceed and subvert our expectations and cement the series’ place as an all-time great trilogy.

After the events of ‘Dawn,’ in which Koba (Toby Kebbell) led a revolt against Caesar (Serkis) and a devastating battle against human survivors in San Francisco, the Ape colony are in hiding in an undisclosed location. We join the film in the middle of the action as a small troop of soldiers close in on an Ape camp for a surprise attack. After the attack, Caesar discovers the humans are capturing and using apes as “donkeys” in war to help the human cause. After the colony suffers a great loss, Caesar takes it upon himself to get revenge on the human in charge of this attack, The Colonel (Harrelson).

Upon reflection, it’s important for the prospective audience to know that ‘War’ may be a surprise to some. Given the title, it wouldn’t be foolish to expect Ape-on-Human anarchy throughout as the titular war rages on, but ‘War’ is, in fact, much more introspective and personal than I expected. Forgoing battle in favour of a grand character study of what it means to be human and what’s at stake for both humans and apes is a bold move for a summer blockbuster. That’s not to say there aren’t scenes of anarchy and battle and war, it’s just not the focus of the film. Caesar is at war with his inner demons as much as he is at war with The Colonel to protect his colony.

The series so far has had stellar performances from its apes, none more so than from Andy Serkis, but ‘War’ takes these performances to the next level. One must wonder what more Serkis must do to gain recognition from the Academy because his work in these films is utterly unparalleled. Caesar faces several obstacles to overcome, questions of family and loyalty and morality, all of which are written on his face in typically meticulous fashion. There are so many shots of Caesar’s eyes and they dominate the screen as he wrestles with himself and what he needs to do next. Caesar commands the screen in the same way he commands his colony. One raise of a hand is enough to silence a hundred apes, and he has the same effect on the viewing audience. Caesar is such an incredible achievement in character creation, design, and development that every word, every gesture feels weighty and important. Serkis’ fellow apes, Konoval, Notary, Zahn, are all impressive in their own right, but Serkis is the master, and in ‘War’ we are seeing a master at the very height of his powers.

If any criticism could be aimed at ‘Dawn’ it would be its lack of comic relief. ‘Dawn’ is a very dark film addressing a very serious subject matter, and while ‘War’ is no different by arguably going even darker, this criticism is addressed with the film-stealing Bad Ape (Zahn). After crossing paths with him accidentally on Caesar and company’s travels to find The Colonel, Bad Ape reveals himself to be an escaped chimpanzee from a zoo who learned to speak only by listening and, unlike most apes on screen, is unable to use sign language. Bad Ape learned to live on his own and meeting an ape of a different style to what we’re used to is a great touch for the third entry in the series. The comedy Bad Ape brings, both verbal and physical, is wholly satisfying, the highlight of which is a visual joke before they all set off on a long, cold journey north which had the entire cinema laughing.

Addressing the obvious, ‘War’ is home to the finest performance capture work in cinema. On a purely visual level, the Apes are stunning. No pixel has been left unused as every Ape on screen looks photorealistic, the most impressive of which on this front is Maurice (Konoval), the hulking Orangutan. Many, many critics state that the true power of any performance is in the eyes, and here it’s no different. Most of the Apes are unable to speak and communicate through sign language, so the eyes are as important as ever and each character’s eyes, whether Caesar, Maurice, Rocket (Notary), or Bad Ape, portray so much about their feelings in any given moment.

Beyond the Apes, the effects in general are stunning and I frequently found myself spellbound by the action on screen. Seamlessly blending CGI with humans, whether a small, lost girl (Miller) they found is hiding behind Maurice, or an Ape hands a human a machine gun magazine, it’s an achievement in itself that it looks so perfect. In scenes of battle and in quiet, dialogue filled scenes, the film manages to convince us that what we’re watching is real. If you were to show someone from even 1997 this film, they’d likely be convinced that these were real apes.

‘War’ is as good a series ender as any other. It manages to conclude Caesar’s arc in a satisfying way while keeping the doors open to future instalments. Reeves’ achievements with this film and ‘Dawn’ should not be underestimated as he has taken the fine foundation of ‘Rise’ and elevated it to a level beyond which any of us could have possibly imagined. For me, ‘Dawn’ remains the series’ peak, but ‘War’ is a stellar achievement in film-making. Apes. Trilogy. Strong.

Rhys’ rating: 9.1 out of 10