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Sicario 2: Soldado

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2015’s Sicario was a coming together of several brilliant talents. Screenwriter Taylor Sheridan, who also delivered great scripts with Hell Or High Water and Wind River; director of photography Roger Deakins, who drew closer to his elusive Oscar; the fine acting chops of Emily Blunt, Benicio Del Toro and Josh Brolin; the ever improving director Denis Villeneuve, whose subsequent films Arrival and Blade Runner 2049 cemented his standing as one of the finest directors working in Hollywood. 2018’s Sicario 2: Soldado reunites Sheridan’s writing with Del Toro’s enigmatic Alejandro and Brolin’s bullish yet principled Matt Graver, but minus the other prominent figures with Stefano Sollima behind the camera and Dariusz Wolski on lensing duties. New cast members include Isabela Moner, Matthew Modine, Catherine Keener and Elijah Rodriguez, their presence expanding the scope of this follow-up. Concerns over terrorism and pirating give the film a more global flavour, although these elements serve more as a distraction than contextualisation. The film’s subject matter feels ripped from the headlines as immigration is a prominent feature, much of the film involving Mexicans illegally entering the United States. While there is (currently) no wall, there are certainly obstacles as well as opportunities for those willing to exploit the desperate. Into this potent mix Matt sends Alejandro, with the goal of starting a war between drug cartels. The film is efficiently put together, with several gripping set pieces including a gruelling gun battle on a deserted desert road. Oddly, the film’s more affecting moments are quiet interchanges, especially between Alejandro and Isabel Reyes (Moner), daughter of a cartel head that Alejandro takes custody of. Their relationship is engaging, while Matt’s clashes with his government superior Cynthia Foards (Keener) and Secretary James Riley (Matthew Modine) highlight the political agenda. Unfortunately, these disparate elements are not cohered, while a subplot involving young Mexican-American Miguel Hernandez (Rodriguez) never convinces. Worse, the film lacks the nihilism of the original, and in its final act there are several moments that could be shockingly cruel, but instead the film loses its nerve and takes the narrative beyond its natural conclusion. The border has many interesting stories, but this is one of the lesser ones.

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Oscar Reflections

KimmelThe Oscars are said and done for another year, and overall I am very pleased with the results. I can agree with the winners, I applaud many of the speeches and the show was a delight to watch.

Most importantly, how did I do? I made predictions in 19 of the 24 categories, and as the show started I did very well, racking up correct prediction after correct prediction. This was pleasing if a little predictable, but as things continued surprises started to appear, such as Get Out winning Original Screenplay and Dunkirk picking up Editing. Overall, I correctly predicted the winners in 15 out of my 19 picks, which at 78% is pretty good going. I’m no gambler, but every year I am tempted.

Picture Correctly Predicted? Directing Correctly Predicted?
The Shape of Water No Guillermo del Toro, The Shape of Water Yes
Call Me by Your Name Christopher Nolan, Dunkirk
Darkest Hour Jordan Peele, Get Out
Dunkirk Greta Gerwig, Lady Bird
Get Out Paul Thomas Anderson, Phantom Thread
Lady Bird
Phantom Thread  Makeup and Hairstyling
The Post  Darkest Hour Yes
Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri  Victoria & Abdul
Wonder 
Actor Actress
Gary Oldman, Darkest Hour Yes Frances McDormand, Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri Yes
Timothée Chalamet, Call Me by Your Name Sally Hawkins, The Shape of Water
Daniel Day,Lewis, Phantom Thread Margot Robbie, I, Tonya
Daniel Kaluuya, Get Out Saoirse Ronan, Lady Bird
Denzel Washington, Roman J. Israel, Esq. Meryl Streep, The Post
Supporting Actor Supporting Actress
Sam Rockwell, Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri  Yes Allison Janney, I, Tonya Yes
Willem Dafoe, The Florida Project  Mary J. Blige, Mudbound 
Woody Harrelson, Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri  Lesley Manville, Phantom Thread
Richard Jenkins, The Shape of Water  Laurie Metcalf, Lady Bird 
Christopher Plummer, All the Money in the World Octavia Spencer, The Shape of Water
Adapted Screenplay Original Screenplay
Call Me by Your Name  Yes Get Out No
The Disaster Artist The Big Sick 
Logan  Lady Bird
Molly’s Game  The Shape of Water 
Mudbound  Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri 
Original Score Original Song
The Shape of Water Yes ‘Remember Me’ from Coco No
Dunkirk “Mighty River” from Mudbound
Phantom Thread “Mystery of Love” from Call Me by Your Name 
Star Wars: The Last Jedi  “Stand Up for Something” from Marshall
Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri “This Is Me” from The Greatest Showman 
Sound Editing   Sound Mixing
Dunkirk Yes Dunkirk  Yes
Baby Driver  Baby Driver 
Blade Runner 2049  Blade Runner 2049 
The Shape of Water The Shape of Water
Star Wars: The Last Jedi Star Wars: The Last Jedi
Production Design Visual Effects
The Shape of Water Yes Blade Runner 2049 Yes
Beauty and the Beast Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 
Blade Runner 2049  Kong: Skull Island
Darkest Hour  Star Wars: The Last Jedi
Dunkirk  War for the Planet of the Apes
Costume Design Cinematography
Phantom Thread  Yes Blade Runner 2049 Yes
Beauty and the Beast Darkest Hour 
Darkest Hour Dunkirk
The Shape of Water  Mudbound
Victoria & Abdul The Shape of Water
Film Editing Animated Feature
Dunkirk  No Coco Yes
Baby Driver The Boss Baby
I, Tonya  The Breadwinner
The Shape of Water Ferdinand
Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri  Loving Vincent

The biggest delights for me personally were one predicted winner and one unexpected though desired victory. When Roger Deakins was announced as the winner of Best Cinematography, I applauded from my sofa. After 14 nominations and such fantastic work in The Shawshank Redemption, The Man Who Wasn’t There, No Country For Old Men, The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford, Skyfall, Sicario and many more, it was an absolute delight to see Deakins finally honoured for the extraordinary visuals of Blade Runner 2049. Well shot sir, well shot.

90th Academy Awards - Show, Los Angeles, USA - 04 Mar 2018

I wanted The Shape of Water to win Best Picture but expected that award to go to Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri. Over the course of the show, deviations from my expectations made that less likely, beginning with Get Out winning Original Screenplay. In recent years, Best Picture has also won Screenplay, Editing or Directing (making The Departed a quintessential winner for 2006). Since Martin McDonagh was not nominated for Directing, a likely win for him and the film was Original Screenplay. Without that, and with Editing going to Dunkirk, Picture became more open. And once Guillermo Del Toro won Directing, The Shape of Water seemed ever more likely. But in my scepticism, I did not see the members of AMPAS voting for a fantasy film. When Faye Dunaway and Warren Beatty announced the winner, I applauded again. For a fantasy/monster/sci fi movie to win Best Picture shows that the Academy members are not as conservative as they used to be, embracing more radical and surprising choices.

The Shape of Water

The show as a whole was very well done. Jimmy Kimmell hosted with great humour, wryness and affection. I especially like Kimmell’s gag of bringing in audiences, a move he and his team pioneered last year by arranging a tour group to come into the Kodak Theater, and built on this year by taking several movie stars into a nearby screening of A Wrinkle in Time. Had I been in that cinema, my mind would have been blown by epic proportions with the sudden arrival of Guillermo Del Toro, Gal Gadot, Armie Hammer, Margot Robbie, Ansel Elgort, Mark Hamill and the rest. Plus a hotdog cannon!208643A3Perhaps the strongest legacy of this year’s Oscars, however, will be the politics. After a few years of controversy over all white acting nominees, the recent scandals over harassment and the subsequent #MeToo and #TimesUp campaigns prompted debate and resistance. Kimmel named and shamed Harvey Weinstein as only the second person to be expelled from AMPAS; actresses received greater prominence as various winners of the Oscar for Best Actress in a Leading Role presented major awards. Last year’s Best Actress Emma Stone presented Directing to Guillermo Del Toro, and two pairs of Oscar winners presented this year’s Best Actor and Best Actress awards: Jane Fonda and Helen Mirren to Gary Oldman for Darkest Hour and Jodie Foster and Jennifer Lawrence to Frances McDormand for Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri, respectively. McDormand made perhaps the most impassioned speech of the night when she encouraged all the female nominees to stand up, be counted and be counted.

TimesUpSome might complain about this political element, either arguing that the Oscars are about art which is not political, or that the Oscars are entertainment and too frivolous or commercial to engage in politics. I reject both these positions because art is and always has been political, and with its extraordinary reach it would be a terrible waste if cinema were not political. The Academy recognised this through a retrospective on war cinema, dedicated to the men and women of the armed forces and introduced touchingly by actor and Vietnam veteran Wes Studi. Secondly, entertainment expresses social and political concerns purely by its production within particular contexts – the dominance of men in the film industry and cinematic output is a political reality and one that is long overdue a challenge. As recent films have demonstrated, you can have hugely successful films with female directors and leads, and the studios apparently taking such risks demonstrates that the only risk is to conservative ideology. For certain, time is up, and my heartiest applause to every presenter and winner at the 90th Annual Academy Awards who used that grandest stage and widest audience to highlight the state of their industry and to call for change.

McDormand

90th Oscar Predictions Part Seven: Effective Production, Productive Effects

Best-Production-Design

Production Design

Nominated twice? Honestly, Academy, couldn’t you spread it out a bit? Then again, the production design of Beauty and the Beast and Darkest Hour are pretty impressive, so fair enough for Sarah Greenwood and Katie Spencer. That said, I suspect AMPAS will reward the remarkable designs of D. Austerberry, Jeffrey A. Melvin and Shane Vieau for The Shape of Water, which combines the historical with the fantastic, the whimsical with the serious. Personally, I preferred the retro-futurism of Blade Runner 2049, but I’d be surprised if this award does not go to The Shape of Water.

Cena-de-Shape-of-Water

Beauty and the Beast, Sarah Greenwood; Katie Spencer


Blade Runner 2049, Dennis Gassner, Alessandra Querzola
(preferred winner)

Darkest Hour, Sarah Greenwood, Katie Spencer


Dunkirk, Nathan Crowley, Gary Fettis


The Shape of Water, Paul D. Austerberry, Jeffrey A. Melvin, Shane Vieau (predicted winner)

Best-Visual-Effects

Visual Effects

Typically, this award is a bone thrown to the mainstream blockbusters. It’s not a constant, as sometimes such films attract other awards as well, and the line between commercial and award film is sometimes blurred. Of these nominees, however, it is notable that three of them appear nowhere else in the awards categories. From a visual effects perspective, they are all very impressive, from the far reaches of space and intriguing alien worlds in Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 and Star Wars: The Last Jedi to the (very different) dystopias of Blade Runner 2049 and War for the Planet of the Apes to the monster mashes of Kong: Skull Island. I loved all these films, not least for their astonishing visuals, and it’s a hard category to pick. I suspect that on the day, the award will go to Blade Runner 2049, but for me, I’d like to see the remarkable performance capture work of War for the Planet of the Apes.

Blade Runner 2049, John Nelson, Paul Lambert, Richard R. Hoover, Gerd Nefzer (predicted winner)

Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2, Christopher Townsend, Guy Williams, Jonathan Fawkner, Dan Sudick

Kong: Skull Island, Stephen Rosenbaum, Jeff White, Scott Benza, Mike Meinardus

Star Wars: The Last Jedi, Ben Morris, Mike Mulholland, Chris Corbould, Neal Scanlan

War for the Planet of the Apes, Joe Letteri, Dan Lemmon, Daniel Barrett, Joel Whist (preferred winner)

serkis-caesardims

90th Oscar Predictions Part Six: Boom! Crash! Splash!

oscar17sound

From the delicate subtlety of The Shape of Water to the REALLY LOUD EXPLOSIONS of Star Wars: The Last Jedi, sound has been perhaps more noticeable than usual this year. This is not necessarily a good thing, since one can be drawn out of the film if the construction of the sound is obvious. Happily, in all of the nominees the sound is superbly mixed (no pun intended) so as to enhance the immersive qualities of the world presented. Nowhere is this more apparent than in Dunkirk, where the crashing of waves, the roar of explosions and the growl of boat and aircraft engines are sublimely blended with Hans Zimmer’s relentless score and the exquisite images. I think Dunkirk will win Sound Editing and Sound Mixing, and I’ll be happy if it does.

Sound Editing

Baby Driver, Julian Slater

Blade Runner 2049, Mark Mangini, Theo Green

Dunkirk, Alex Gibson, Richard King (preferred and predicted winner)

The Shape of Water, Nathan Robitaille, Nelson Ferreira

Star Wars: The Last Jedi, Ren Klyce, Matthew Wood

dunkirk-2017-large-pictureSound Mixing

Baby Driver, Mary H. Ellis, Julian Slater, Tim Cavagin


Blade Runner 2049, Mac Ruth, Ron Bartlett, Doug Hephill


Dunkirk, Mark Weingarten, Gregg Landaker, Gary A. Rizzo (preferred and predicted winner)

The Shape of Water, Glen Gauthier, Christian Cooke, Brad Zoern


Star Wars: The Last Jedi, Stuart Wilson, Ren Klyce, David Parker, Michael Semanick

90th Oscar Predictions Part Five: Shoot It, Cut It

best-cinematography-2018Cinematography

Roger Deakins, Roger Deakins, Roger Deakins, Roger Deakins. I actually think it will happen this year. Previously, despite his astonishing work, Deakins has been up against exceptional competition, especially with 3D cinematography. This year, however, the nominees in this category are working within similar parameters. Hoyte van Hoytema’s work for Dunkirk is remarkable, not least his aerial work with IMAX cameras attached to Spitfires. But every frame of Blade Runner 2049 is a breathtaking work of art that you could frame on your wall, and this is Deakins’ time. Not only do I want him to win, I predict that he will.

Blade Runner 2049, Roger Deakins (preferred and predicted winner)

Darkest Hour, Bruno Delbonnel

Dunkirk, Hoyte van Hoytema

Mudbound, Rachel Morrison

The Shape of Water, Dan Laustsen

Blade-Runner-2049-620x360Film Editing

Best-Film-Editing

Editing is sometimes tied to Best Picture – note that three of the nominees this year are also up for the Academy’s highest award. However, in this case I suspect that the film cut so closely to music it might as well be a musical will pick up the Oscar. I wasn’t a huge fan of Baby Driver, but I anticipate it will be a winner. That said, personally I’d pick Dunkirk, for its smart editing between different timeframes that never confused or befuddled me.

Baby Driver, Jonathan Amos, Paul Machliss (predicted winner)

Dunkirk, Lee Smith (preferred winner)

I, Tonya, Tatiana S. Riegel

The Shape of Water, Sidney Wolinsky

Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri, Jon Gregory 

2017: Review of the Year

2017-main

A little late, it’s time to re-pile stuff in front of the Christmas decorations, resume speculation about summer holidays before realising way too late that the prices have risen, and to reflect on the previous year in film. As always, there was far more I wanted to see than I was able to due to time and money constraints, with my total of 2017 releases (in the UK) coming to a grand total of 51. Even working from such a small sample, however, 2017 was a brilliant movie year, in terms of the sheer range in quality that helped me appreciate afresh just how much is out there. From Oscar upsets to Marvelous blockbusters, long-mooted sequels to alluring animation, 2017 offered much and delivered more than it disappointed. Of the 51 releases I saw, these are my top twelve, in musical form:

On the twelfth day of Christmas

The movies gave to me

Twelve Ragnaroks

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Eleven Hidden Figures

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Ten runs with Logan

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Nine men in Moonlight

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Eight Blade Runners

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Seven pregnant mothers!

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Manchester By The Six

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Five Red Turtles

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Four Wonder Women

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Three Handmaidens

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Two Detroit riots

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And escape from the beach at Dunkirk.

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And now, with review tweets and full access to my archive, here are Vincent’s Views of 2017 in full.

Top Twelve

  1. Dunkirk

A ruthlessly efficient, relentlessly tense, mercilessly immersive triptych on trauma, time and terror.

  1. Detroit

A harrowing, immersive, unflinching portrait of prejudice, brutality, societal tension and being the wrong colour in the wrong place at the wrong time.

  1. The Handmaiden

An exquisite, sumptuous, erotic portrayal of an intriguing, labyrinthine tale.

  1. Wonder Woman

A dynamic, inventive, witty and diverse superhero adventure of duty, will, evil and love.

  1. The Red Turtle

A beautiful, haunting folk tale of survival, solitude and transcendence.

  1. Manchester by the Sea

A beautifully composed, exquisitely painful, warm, witty and moving portrait of family, grief and community.

  1. mother!

An exquisitely unhinged, utterly delirious, relentlessly deranged, headlong charge into unmitigated chaos.

  1. Blade Runner 2049

A spellbinding, suffusive, mind expanding exploration of identity, humanity and mediation.

  1. Moonlight

A haunting, soulful, beautiful, exquisitely balanced exploration of identity, sexuality and belonging.

  1. Logan

A brutal, melancholic and intimately violent portrayal of running from and living with your past.

  1. Hidden Figures

An enlightening, compelling and inspiring story of mathematics, race, technology and history.

  1. Thor: Ragnarok

A colourful, eclectic, highly Antipodean adventure of friendship, memory and powers old and new.

Honorable Mentions

  1. Murder on the Orient Express

A crisp, clockwork lattice of motives, suspects, histories and ethics, engineered into a probing investigation of morality and balance.

  1. Spider-Man: Homecoming

A whipsmart high school action comedy of superpowered growing pains.

  1. Lady Macbeth

A beautifully composed, exquisitely restrained portrait of devastating disruption.

  1. Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2

A wonderfully wacky and dizzily dazzling space opera of wit, warmth, adventure, family and reconciliation.

  1. A Ghost Story

A subtle, enveloping, achingly sad tale of grief, isolation and the experience of time.

  1. Star Wars: The Last Jedi

An overlong but still thrilling multi-stranded space chase of divination, intuition, legends, legacies and lightsabres.

  1. Kong: Skull Island

A thrilling ride through the wild side that reminds us of our place in nature.

  1. My Cousin Rachel

A ripe, sumptuous Gothic romance of obsession, ambiguity and multiple planes.

  1. It

An atmospheric and genuinely scary tale of fear(s), friendship, nostalgia and growing pains.

  1. Jumanji: Welcome To The Jungle

A gleefully absurd, riotously funny, thrillingly immersive action adventure of nostalgia, identity, growing pains and working together.

  1. The Limehouse Golem

A ripe, grisly period murder mystery of roles both social and theatrical.

  1. Hacksaw Ridge

A overly portentous but visceral and at times orgiastically violent film of faith and courage under fire.

  1. La La Land

A vibrant, colourful medley of nostalgia and dreams both lost and won.

Solid Offerings  

  1. War For The Planet Of The Apes

A coldly beautiful, brilliantly realised and unrelentingly grim epic of grief, revenge, cruelty and compassion.

  1. Wind River

An atmospheric, muscular and very cold thriller of borderlands both geographical and societal.

  1. Miss Sloane

A gripping, twisting and enthralling journey through corridors of power and landscapes of laws, ethics and conscience.

  1. Atomic Blonde

An achingly 80s, super slick and stylistically bravura period spy thriller of crunchy action, double-crossing and neon.

  1. Patriots Day

A compelling if inconsistent collation of coherence and chaos within community.

  1. Justice League

A somewhat unbalanced yet stylish, witty and punchy super smackdown of power, fear, courage and the strength of unity.

  1. Get Out

A gripping, thrilling and disturbing horror of racial attitudes and oppression.

  1. Assassin’s Creed

A visceral, enthralling exploration of mind, body and the cinematic space.

  1. Baby Driver

A slick, funky heist thriller with musical flow albeit an imbalance of grit and sentiment.

  1. Tommy’s Honour

A gorgeous, moving drama of family and class, and the most compelling film you may ever see about golf.

  1. Unlocked

A twisting, gripping and gritty espionage thriller that just avoids collapsing under its own contrivance.

  1. Life

A cine-literate, thrilling and suitably grisly space body horror.

  1. The Great Wall

A grand, visceral and sometimes witty monster movie with plenty of bang if lacking in awe.

  1. Call Me By Your Name

A beautifully transnational, intense yet never melodramatic portrayal of youth, sexuality and awakenings.

  1. Baywatch

A baggy, overly referential and yet surprisingly funny buddy comedy of sun, sand and silliness.

  1. The Zookeeper’s Wife

A sometimes moving but ultimately uneven Holocaust drama of compassion and cruelty towards our own and other species.

  1. Churchill

A handsomely mounted if somewhat repetitive home front political drama.

Disappointments

  1. Beauty and the Beast

A sometimes sweeping if rather disjointed musical fantasy romance.

  1. Fences

A somewhat stage-bound domestic drama of family and racial tensions, elevated by powerhouse performances.

  1. Ghost in the Shell

A visually arresting if narratively cumbersome sci-fi thriller of memory, identity and technology.

Turkeys

  1. Lion

An over-determined, clumsily directed and ultimately anemic cosmopolitan drama of loss.

  1. Live By Night

A handsome but hollow period gangster film.

  1. Alien: Covenant

A gory, sumptuous but overly panicked sci-fi horror of ambition and hubris.

  1. The Mummy

An underwhelming, painfully obvious franchise set-up that suffers from being literally too dark.

  1. The Dark Tower

A limp, lifeless, messy squandering of great potential.

  1. The Snowman

A ham-fisted and mechanically clichéd thriller that is more creaky than creepy.

 

Blade Runner 2049

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There is a key moment in Denis Villeneuve’s sequel to Ridley Scott’s Blade Runner when a character learns an important truth. The moment features two figures captured in a two-shot that silhouettes their profiles against a richly textured background. This instance encapsulates the film as a whole, as every frame is saturated with meaning, craft and beauty. Set thirty years after the events of the original film, Villeneuve’s follow up is not a sequel that we needed but it is one that fans of the original deserve, as BR2049 pays homage to the original, one of the most influential science fiction films ever made, while also staking out its own territory. Villeneuve and writers Hampton Fancher and Michael Green’s story of cop K (Ryan Gosling, developing his taciturn roles in Drive and Only God Forgives into something all the more eerie) searching for answers in a dystopian California builds upon the first film and explores many of the same questions about humanity and identity, what it means to be a person, what is the influence of voice, embodiment, obedience, views of self and other. Brilliantly, BR2049 takes these questions in new directions, raising issues of what constitutes procreation and the importance of digitization. Production designer Dennis Gassner and the visual effects team go beyond the huge advertisements of the first film with giant 3D projections in the Los Angeles of 2049, while interactive AI and immersive holographic environments appear throughout the film. Blade Runner 2049 therefore continues to explore the tension between what is real and what is artifice, a line that is progressively blurred and distorted. Interestingly, the film is reminiscent both of the original Blade Runner as well as more recent science fiction such as A.I.: Artificial Intelligence and Her. The recurrence of these themes and tropes demonstrates the eternal recycling of concepts in science fiction, yet BR2049 never feels stale or like something we have seen before (even though, in a sense, we have). The central uncanny conceit operates on a narrative, thematic and stylistic level, and even in the very substance of the film.

blade3

Roger Deakins is the true star here, his exquisite visuals spellbindingly beautiful while simultaneously laden with portent. Yet these images are themselves ephemeral, data that has no more physical substance than some of the characters in the film. The viewer’s reaction therefore mirrors the characters. Just as K gazes at holograms with a mixture of wonder and bitterness, so does the film invite awe tinged with scepticism. Some of this scepticism can spill over into criticism – the film’s length and languorous pace is not to all tastes, while aspects of the principal antagonist add little to the proceedings. It also sidelines exploration of its female characters in favour of male questing, which is a shame because the female characters often suggest intriguing alternatives. But overall, these are minor quibbles in a film that largely delivers on the promise of its predecessor, and will likely be analysed and debated for another thirty years.

BLADE RUNNER 2049