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Old School Review: The Mirror

Written by Andrei Tarkovsky and Aleksandr Misharin and directed by Tarkovsky in 1975, “The Mirror” is a hell of a head trip if you haven’t ever heard of the Russian filmmaker and dived headfirst into this film without any context like I did. The other day I was looking through the Filmstruck catalog and decided to look into more foreign films, it’s an area of storytelling that I’m rather lacking in to be honest, and found Russian filmmaker Andrei Tarkovsky. Skimming through his seven feature films I noticed “Solaris”, perhaps remembering the title from somewhere or sometime-but instead opted for “The Mirror” as it was an hour shorter. Ironically in an effort to save time I chose a film that required roughly two hours of light research and article skimming to understand.

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“The Mirror” is an intensely personal film for Tarkovsky. The film is part autobiography, part fiction, and part pure visual storytelling. This film is very abstract. It plays with time, reality, and scenes sometimes play out in black and white, other times in sepia-tone, and sometimes just in plain old color. The film is told through three separate timelines, pre-war, war-time, and post-war in Russia with many sequences being directly lifted from the filmmaker’s life. Fleeing Moscow to live with relatives in the countryside in his youth was a big part of the pre-war phase. Tarkovsky’s father was a well known poet, and you can most definitely see that influence. There are many slow and meditative shots revealing nature and people intermingling, like in one of the opening scenes where the Doctor who asked for directions gazes back towards Tarkovsky’s mothers’ house in the countryside as wind sweeps and bellows along the fields of buck wheat that Tarkovsky had planted for the film. The main character-whose face remains unseen throughout the film and is to be a reflection of Tarkovsy himself- narrates from off-screen throughout many sequences, although there are a few narrations weaved into the film where Tarkovsky’s father recites his own poetry over select scenes.

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Tarkovsky here has essentially made a stream of consciousness film. It is about a man reflecting on his life as he lay dying from illness, and in that way you can absorb and view these scenes from this character’s perspective. Even though we are never properly introduced to the character we know him deeply by the time we see him caressing a bird before letting it fly away near the end of the film. What makes the film hard to digest on first viewing, besides it’s incredibly nonlinear narrative and plot structure, is that Tarkovsky had cast two actors to play two different roles. Margarita Terekhova plays Natalia, the ex-wife of the adult Aleksei (Tarakovsky’s representation of himself) and Aleksei’s Mother, Maria, in the pre-war era as well. On top of that Maria also goes by Masha or Marusya at times. The child actor, Ignat Daniltsev, plays the 12 year old Aleksei and also Aleksei’s son Ignat later in the post-war era as well. There’s also the fact that Tarkovsky inserts real newsreel footage of wartime with Russia, China and Germany depicting border spats with China and immensely crowded walkways and protests and other more mundane footage of Russian soldiers moving large floating structures piled high with perishables and goods through ankle high water with no destination in sight.

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In my mild research of the film I came across a sentiment that perfectly said what I could not in how to approach this film, I have a link to the website at the bottom of the review if this has piqued your interest for more information about “The Mirror”, “I realised that the best approach when watching this film is a simple one. To not try to dissect what each scene means per say but to try to understand the underlying themes of the film which involve adolescent love, pain, abandonment and emotional trauma“(http://www.classicartfilms.com/mirror-the-1975). This was an interesting departure from what I normally view and I encourage others to go and watch something that you know you wouldn’t normally choose, it’s good to get a different perspective. “The Mirror” was captivating in a few ways for me personally, but this is definitely not a film that will fit everyone’s tastes. The director knew that when making the film. He cared not for the box office predictions or numbers, not for the critical response that he would receive good or bad, he just created, and that is something that I can appreciate. However if you viewed this film and still have no idea what was even going on, fret not, for even Tarkovsky himself wasn’t entirely sure of the purpose or meaning of some scenes, “There are many complications there which I don’t even completely understand myself. For example, it was very important for me to have my mother in some scenes. There is one episode in the film in which the boy, Ignat, is sitting…not Ignat…what was his name?…the author’s son, he is sitting in his father’s empty room, in the present, in our times….And as he is sitting there we hear the doorbell, he opens the door. This is my mother. And she is the grandmother of this boy who opens the door for her. But why doesn’t she recognise him, why doesn’t the grandson recognize her?…one has completely no idea. That is…firstly, this wasn’t explained by the plot, in the screenplay, and secondly…even for me this was unclear.” (http://www.classicartfilms.com/mirror-the-1975)

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Final Score: The Dreams, Past, & Future of 1 man

*For more analysis check out this site below, it helped me immensely in sorting out the film’s themes and ideas in play:

http://www.classicartfilms.com/mirror-the-1975

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Old School Review: The Seventh Seal

Written and directed by Ingmar Bergman in 1957, “The Seventh Seal” is a fantasy drama set during the Middle Ages in which a disillusioned Knight returns to Sweden after the Crusades have ended. The Knight, Antonius Block, (Max Von Sydow) is met by the personification of Death (Bengt Ekerot) on a seaside coast and engages in a ‘running’ game of Chess over the course of several days to determine his fate. If this sounds familiar, a knight playing chess with the grim reaper, it may be because of the parodies that this film has inspired over the years. Take Ian McKellen’s cameo in “The Last Action Hero” for example:

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McKellen’s character even emerges from the set of a film with the same title as Bergman’s classic, sporting the simple yet effective look of Death. However my favorite example of this imagery being parodied happens to take place in a little movie called “Bill and Ted’s Bogus journey” the sequel to “Excellent Adventure”:

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Other aspects of the film have been mined for laughs as well. “Monty Python and the Holy Grail” famously depicted their own version of the flagellant scene by having a roving group of monks smacking themselves in the head while reciting lines from the Dies Irae (A Latin Hymn):

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So, why all references you might ask? To press upon you (for the uninitiated) that this film is heavily lauded around the world-and therefore has been ripe for a good ribbing for over half a century now. The story deals heavily with religious themes and seriously questions organized religion through allegory and rich dialogue. In the film, every character deals with doubt in some way shape or form- it is one of the central ideas of the story after all. The two opposing ideologies of the film are represented in both the Knight Antonius, and in Jons (Gunnar Bjornstrand), his nihilistic squire who rides with him. Both characters’ personalities color Bergman’s own differing thoughts on the subject of God, “Since at this time I was still very much in a quandary over religious faith, I placed my two opposing beliefs side by side, allowing each to state its case in its own way. In this manner, a virtual cease-fire could exist between my childhood piety and my newfound harsh rationalism.” -Ingmar Bergman.

The other major theme of the story is the silence of God and how people react to this. Antonius may be dour and depressed by all of this but he never rejects the possibility of God, he simple wants some reinforcement that can prove that his life has not been wasted. He says as much when he and Jons enter a small chapel. Jons chides a local artist there for creating artwork depicting the dance of death and embracing the religious and ideological fervor that led to the Crusades while Antonius goes to confess. He asks, “Is it so terribly inconceivable to comprehend God with one’s senses? Why does he hide in a cloud of half-promises and unseen miracles? How can we believe in the faithful when we lack faith? What will happen to us who want to believe, but can not? What about those who neither want to nor can believe? Why can’t I kill God in me? Why does He live on in me in a humiliating way – despite my wanting to evict Him from my heart? Why is He, despite all, a mocking reality I can’t be rid of?” Shortly thereafter Antonius reveals that he is playing chess with Death and boasts of the move he has planned to cheat the supernatural foe. However, it was not a priest that was listening to the woes of the Knight, but Death himself.

During this exchange Antonius reveals his understanding of religion and the organization of it, “We must make an idol of our fear, and that idol we shall call God.” Once Death vanishes from the chapel both Antonius and Jons head into the small village and see the traveling theatre troupe we had been introduced to earlier in the film. They are composed of a married couple, Jof (Nils Poppe) and Mia (Bibi Andersson) with their infant child and Skat, the director of the troupe. Jof occasionally has visions and is the only other character to actually see Death other than the Knight near the end of the film. After a spat in the local pub involving Jof, Antonius meets the married couple outside of town and shares a meal with both of them and oddly enough- he finds his meaning in that moment with Jof and Mia on a hillside, he is inspired by the simple love of the two and embraces the gift of the natural world, not a fate handed down from above, but of the fellowship of mankind in the natural world. He then extends an offer to them to travel with him and Jons through the forest rather than risk getting the plague along their original route, even going so far as to offer shelter in his castle from the plague.

In his next turn in the game Antonius appears exuberant and Death takes notice, deviously asking if he plans to take the troupe through the forest. Antonius also takes note of the grim reaper’s inquiry and becomes well aware of the threat his newfound friends face with him. Once deep into the woods the Knight engages with Death one last time, in which Jof notices who Antonius is playing chess with and decides to escape while Death is distracted by the game. Antonius sees the troupe attempting to leave and knocks over half the board to let them escape Death’s grasp.. for now. It is this act which completes Antonius’ quest to do one meaningful deed before Death takes him. In the end Jof sees Death and the Knight’s remaining travelers doing a solemn dance of death as he guides them away from the land of the living.

Much like my initial viewing of “Citizen Kane” I found this film to be more enjoyable than I had expected. This sensation can be condensed down to two major reasons why the film worked for me as a modern audience; humor and truth. Gunnar Bjornstrand’s character Jons was an unexpected source of humor in the film as the first half of the film paints the squire as a cynical brute with a penchant for singing tunes. We see him rough up a would-be rapist, Raval (Bertil Anderberg), while searching for water in the first act. However, Jons quickly recognizes Raval, the theologian that had convinced the knight to leave for the Crusades in the first place, and promises to brand him on the face if he sees him again-which he does, and he immediately fulfills that promise. The second half of the film shows his other half though, his comfortable acceptance of the world and its darkness, which leads into his sense of humor. One scene in particular has Jons providing lines to Plog the Blacksmith as the local smith tries to insult and threaten the theater troupe director that had run off with the blacksmith’s wife earlier in the film. It’s wonderfully played as the squire’s attention is piqued when the insults begin to fly and he makes his way to Plog’s ear to aid for his own enjoyment. There are other times throughout the film’s runtime when the darkly comic humor emerges, though the film is indeed mostly concerned with Antonius’ quest for answers.

Which leads me to the second reason the film worked, the truth in Antonius’ universally relatable problem, having doubt. Questioning the larger machinations at work can be applied to religion, but it could also be applied to government rule, as an example. Having a sensation of existentialism after experiencing doubt as to what was previously considered the standard way of life can be disorienting to say the least. Many people throughout time have felt that same sensation, it’s part of what makes a revolution so unsettling to some- and just as invigorating for others. The truth in the film is likely so well done because Bergman drew from his own inner turmoils about religion but also because of the way he crafted the world of his film as well. By creating a sensation of anxiety and fear from a threat as menacing as that of the black plague Bergman made the medieval world’s problems comparable to that of the 1950’s and now again in 2017, the fear of nuclear annihilation. Bergman thought of his film as an allegory for the 20th century, or the modern era, with the threat of the black plague resembling the cloud of anxiety that nuclear weapons now bring in its place. He was also inspired by the idea of art existing in dark times, which is brought to life in the film by the troupe of traveling actors bringing song and dance to various small villages even under the looming threat of the black plague. “In my film, the Crusader returns from the Crusades as the soldier returns from the war today. In the Middle Ages, man lived in terror of the plague. Today, they live in fear of the atomic bomb” – Ingmar Bergman. “The Seventh Seal” is a classic for a reason and if you want an entry point into the acclaimed filmmaker’s body of work, this is a fine start. “The Seventh Seal” is in the Criterion Collection and can be found on Filmstruck, a classic film streaming service that works with the Criterion Collection, as well.

 

Final Score: 1 Knight & 1 Bishop

 

*For more analysis of “The Seventh Seal” I suggest giving the video below a look, it helped me to more fully understand the film, hopefully you’ll find it of use as well.

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Famous Filmmaker’s Firsts: The Coen Brothers’ “Blood Simple”

Written by both Joel and Ethan Coen and directed by Joel Coen, “Blood Simple” is a thriller that reflects much of their future catalog of films in a multitude of ways. Mainly that there might be a simple tumbling of events based around those universal and age old instigators; love, jealousy, and revenge. The film opens with narration condoning complainers and letting the audience know that something can always go wrong because in Texas, we’re told, you’re on your own. This brilliantly lays out the mentality that ultimately causes everything to go awry.

It’s a simple story at its core, but it’s what the Coens do with that structure and how they shoot the preceding events that make this film worth it’s while. Abby (Frances McDormand) decides to leave her jealous and brooding husband Marty (Dan Hedaya) in the night. Ray (John Getz) works for Marty at his bar and offers to drive Abby to Houston, but a mutual attraction only gets them to a motel before doubling back after a night of passionate indiscretion. While there Marty’s hired private eye Visser (M. Emmett Walsh) snaps proof of the infidelity and wheels back to Marty to hand over the proof for an envelope of money.

A few double crosses later and we have scenes that play out where two characters believe each other has killed another all while we the audience know that neither version is true. The Coens play each scene for all it’s worth by ratcheting up the tension with their shot sequences, pacing, and soundtrack choices. The title of the film is derived from a 1929 Dashiell Hammett novel (Red Harvest) which the term “Blood Simple” is described as the addled, fearful mindset of people after a prolonged immersion in violent situations. Which is something that every major character goes through, and some viewers may also feel unsettled due to the atmosphere alone. I really enjoyed this movie, it was fun getting to the root of two of the most critically acclaimed directing duos to ever hit Hollywood and it’ll help give me context to their future releases, every good story needs an origin after all. I suggest giving it a shot!

Final Score: One love triangle and a knife in the hand

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Review: Get Out

Written and directed by Jordan Peele of “Key and Peele” fame, “Get Out” is the directorial debut from the sketch show comedian. Peele seems to have done his horror homework because his first feature achieves what many movies in the genre fail to do; create an atmosphere of tension that doesn’t rely on jump-scares to unsettle the audience. This is the type of horror movie that I revel in, the kind that hints and nudges you from thinking “That’s kinda creepy..” and transforms into “Get out man! Just get outta there!” by the time the third act rolls around. I prefer psychological horror or thrillers more than the stereotypes of the genre that movies like “Paranormal Activity” or “Saw” suggest. To each their own though, my favorite horror film is still “A Nightmare on Elm Street”. “Get Out” is more of a blend of horror and comedy, but the comedy is used to great effect when the story needs it. Particularly from Rod Williams (Milton ‘Lil Rel’ Howery) Chris’ good friend and TSA agent who he frequently calls for a voice of reason, and a good laugh.

Daniel Kaluuya stars as Chris Washington, a young photographer whose in a relationship with Rose Armitage (Allison Williams) and is about to head off to her parents house in the wealthy secluded suburbs. Chris is a little anxious while packing, Rose prods and he reveals his unease about the potential for racial tension, he asks, “do they know I’m black?” She paws off the comment saying that her parents aren’t racist, just friendly and awkward, forewarning Chris that her dad would have voted for Obama for a third time if he had the opportunity. He accepts that and is soon met on their doorstep with an amicable “We’re huggers!” from Rose’s father Dean (Bradley Whitford) and her mother Missy (Catherine Keener). In fact other than a few curiously worded statements from Rose’s father about his near genocidal hatred of deer and his father losing a spot on the 1936 Olympics team to Jesse Owens, (who famously won four gold medals in track and field and subsequently marring Hitler’s propaganda about the supposed greatness of the Ayran race) everything seemed well enough. That is, until he spots the other two black people on the property, Walter the groundskeeper (Marcus Henderson) and Georgina the maid in the house (Betty Gabriel).

Mood and feeling permeate the remainder of the plot as “Get Out” plays with our expectations and is measured in its pace, allowing us to become equally unsettled alongside Chris. Things ultimately ratchet up in intensity once Missy Armitage suggests trying her method of hypnosis to cure Chris’ “nasty little habit” of smoking. The film holds no blatant twists per se, things unfold at a clip where the true intentions of the Armitage clan are revealed in due time. I’ll leave the rest to be discovered upon watching, but it is a fascinating pairing of clever race relation anxieties and something a bit more… cerebral. What I loved about the film is how Peele has taken inspired cues from classics of the creepy variety to create something new and original. “Guess who’s coming to dinner?”, “Rosemary’s baby”, “The Stepford Wives”, “Misery”, and “The Shining” have all been referenced by Peele in interviews when asked about his influences and where he draws inspiration from and “Get out” is that much better for having the patience to shoot the film the way he did. He even noted that the original intent of the film when he wrote it was to make a point to prove that just because we elected a black man for president twice, the country wasn’t in some fairy-tale version of a post racial society. Hard to argue against that reality now, isn’t it?

Final Score: 1 Neurosurgeon, 1 hypnotist, and 1 dead deer

 

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Old School Review: Burden of Dreams

Written by Mike Goodwin and directed by Les Blank, “Burden of Dreams” is a documentary about the legendarily chaotic production of Werner Herzog’s film “Fitzcarraldo” that was shot on location in the South American jungles of the Amazon. Since its release “Burden of Dreams” has gathered notorious status as a documentary that is more daring and impressive than even “Fitzcarraldo” itself due to the massive setbacks and litany of problems that plagued the four year production. It also chronicles a parallel between Herzog and his film’s subject matter, the similarly stubborn and unrelenting real life rubber baron Carlos Fermín Fitzcarrald. Herzog was inspired by Fitzcarrald’s mettle in aspiring to move a steamboat from one river to the next at a precarious angle in the mud and thick jungles. However the real event wasn’t as plagued as Herzog’s, due in part to Herzog’s insistence of risk and difficulty and partly due to chance and circumstance. For example, Herzog demanded they move the whole ship in one piece when in reality Fitzcarrald had moved the real ship in pieces and it only weighed thirty tons in comparison to the three hundred and twenty ton boat that Herzog wanted to use.

Carlos Fermín Fitzcarrald was a lover of the Opera and had wished to fund the construction of an opera-house in the Amazon jungle, which is why he was attempting to traverse dangerous terrain in great pain and effort to reach a basin of rubber trees that had not yet been reaped of their resources. When things didn’t work out for Fitzcarrald he retired into becoming a wealthy rubber baron instead of following through on his dreams to bring the Opera to a new continent. Herzog would not give in so easily. In the beginning of the production Herzog had Jason Robards starring as Fitzcarraldo with Mick Jagger co-starring as his side-kick in the endeavor. In fact, they had shot forty percent of the intended film including both leads before Robards was rushed back to New York with amoebic dysentery and forbidden by his doctors to return to the location. Mick Jagger also had to leave the shoot shortly thereafter as he was scheduled to tour with the Rolling Stones and couldn’t be behind schedule with recording new music. So Herzog erased the sidekick character and sought a new lead, considering Jack Nicholson among others before settling on Klaus Kinski, an actor he had worked with before on previous films. Herzog started back from the beginning as nothing they had shot previously would now work.

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Upon arrival in the Amazon the local tribes of natives were incredibly superstitious of the German film crew and things quickly escalated to the point that they had to move the production twelve hundred miles upriver as they had been in the middle of two warring tribes’ territories. Once there they had to traverse new problems and obstacles. The mishaps included plane crashes, disease, and attacks by unfriendly Indians to name a few of the many problems they encountered. Herzog had planned to shoot during the rainy season so the rivers would be deep enough for his three ships that he had collected for the shoot, but by the time they got to shooting any of these scenes time had run out and they were running into the dry season, the longest one on record at the time. Large amounts of time were stalled on the shoot due to the difficulties in getting supplies to their film camps, waiting on natives to go council with other neighboring tribes to assess their grievances of various ongoings, and waiting on parts to be delivered for the large tractor that they acquired to pull the boat up the arduous slope. Sometimes they received the wrong parts and had to then wait even more just to get the correct part.

This doesn’t even cover the grievances from the western actors and crew that had stayed far longer than any of their initial contracts had deemed necessary. Klaus Kinski in particular was notably difficult as time waned on. Kinski provoked many crises in the production, he fought virulently with Herzog and other members of the crew over increasingly trivial matters. Later in his documentary of the actor, “My Best Fiend”, Herzog notes that the native extras were greatly upset by the actor’s antics, even as Kinski claimed to feel close to them. Herzog states that one of the native chiefs offered in all seriousness to kill Kinski for him, but that he declined because he needed the actor to complete filming. Schedules being pushed back months and months at a time only put increased stress on the film crew. One cameraman even took injury when one of the boats crashed into the rocky facade of the river because Herzog had noted that due to heavy unexpected rainfall the rivers would be swollen to the levels they needed for the shoot-but only for several hours leveraging great risk for great reward. When it came time to sort out the logistics of filming the boat being pulled up the muddy slope (at a forty degree angle) to craft the illusion of the natives hauling the vessel without the aid of their frequently unreliable tractor, Herzog stood his ground and debated with the engineer they had hired to help them complete the shoot successfully and safely. Eventually the engineer quit the production as he believed the project to be too risky and that it would put people’s lives in unnecessary risk.

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Herzog persisted though, the linchpin of the film was shooting the three story boat being hoisted over an isthmus between two adjoining rivers. “Fitzcarraldo” was the story of a single-minded man obsessed with the notion of introducing opera to the jungles of the Amazon. Les Blank’s premise, that Werner Herzog became as obsessed as his lead character, needs no underlining. I found the documentary to be a fascinating examination of one of cinema’s most enduring personalities in Herzog. His determination and artistic integrity in shooting something so unfathomable is both humbling and astonishing. No special effects were used in any aspect of the production and in “Burden of Dreams” you get to see inside the creative process of one of the most fascinating documentary filmmakers we will likely ever witness. If you find film production to be a subject that you enjoy, I highly recommend seeing this. You probably won’t hear of many scenarios that have as good a story as this one.

Final Score: Three three-story steamboats & dozens of real life native Amazon tribesman turned actors

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Review: A Ghost Story

Written and directed by David Lowery, “A Ghost Story” is a quiet and small film about the enormity of existence, love, loss, and grief. I originally sought out the film mostly because it was another unique offering from studio A24, but also because of the simplicity of the idea. Lowery cleverly uses a childlike representation of the ethereal limbo as a story device- a figure draped in a simple white bedsheet- to examine some of the most universal themes of what it is to be human. This is a film that is almost certainly not going to be everyone’s cup of tea, mostly because it is almost devoid of dialogue and it slowly meanders with a melancholy tone for most of the runtime (which comes to 87 minutes). The story opens with Rooney Mara and Casey Affleck living their lives as most do, working on various projects and staying close to each other in proximity and in love. However to have a story about a ghost, someone has to die.

That someone is Casey Affleck. After his life ends abruptly in an auto accident just yards from his house we follow him in his ghostly form for the rest of the film. He passively watches his widowed wife grieve and attempts to console her to no avail. However, time in the afterlife soon becomes.. slippery and large pockets of time begin to wash over him. The Ghost stays in what was once his home long after his wife leaves. A character trait, we later learn, that is leftover from his fleshy form as he lingers and watches, listens, and sometimes even haunts new tenants over the years. There is a monologue during a party in which one man describes the inconsequential efforts of humanity to remain after we have left this mortal plane. Among a house of young people drinking and dancing one vocal participant voices this notion. It’s a small moment that is the heart of the movie’s message-“We build our legacy piece by piece,” he says, “and maybe the whole world will remember you, or maybe just a couple of people, but you do what you can to make sure you’re still around after you’re gone.” It’s a moment that stays with you as the ghostly figure transcends what must be decades upon decades as the plot of land that was once the site of his small house becomes the ground floor of a skyscraper’s construction.

Shot in square 1.33 Academy ratio frame with rounded edges the film gains a level of intimacy that few films can compete with. Shooting this way paired with the emotional clarity of always placing the ghost in the frame as he wistfully looks on crafts a sense both haunting and hypnotic. Though admittedly I don’t mean to place this film upon a pedestal of importance through this review, it’s simply a small film with a $100,000 budget and a few big names actors meshed together to create a satisfying note on the poetic nature of time’s infinity and how we all cope with that in our differing ways. If you have the time and the patience for a film like this, I suggest giving it a shot. Though if you know what kind of viewer you are and can’t sit through Rooney Mara cry/eat an entire pie for a couple minutes, you might not enjoy this one.

Final Score: Two ghosts and a monologue 

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Review: Blade Runner 2049

Written by Michael Green and Hampton Fancher and directed by Denis Villeneuve “Blade Runner: 2049” has finally released thirty-five years after the original “Blade Runner” hit cinemas in 1982. Ridley Scott’s film may not have done all that well in its box office run but has since become a titan of science fiction influence grasping through the decades to expand its drudgy, wet, and dismal reach. A sequel to “Bladerunner” could have been a cash-grab from a greedy, blockbuster-foaming studio-but much to the relief of fans of the original, and newcomers to the franchise, “2049” stands apart from the original in scope and sensibility but feels entirely part of the world that Ridley Scott brought to life decades ago. In short- this sequel is as good as anyone could have hoped for and a brilliant film in its own right.

This is a film that deserves a second viewing, almost near demanding the audience of it in order to digest everything that we’re presented with. Luckily, the film is gorgeous and a beautiful spectacle to behold. The sights and sounds of this film are why I go to the movie theater. This is an absorbing film experience. Roger Deakins, the cinematographer of the film, has earned the accolades that the critics have been heaping on him. In this version of the future Los Angeles, it snows. The mountainous monoliths of architecture feel familiar, yet dwarf the landscape of the original in this labyrinth of buildings crammed and squeezed together. The encroaching tendrils of mother nature are kept at bay with gigantic walls to bend the ocean to our will, overbearing and frequent snowplows meander the street pushing heavy wet snow out of the way, and when it rains; it pours a near never ending deluge of water. The score is another gigantic factor in this film as Hans Zimmer and Benjamin Wallfisch insert enough auditory callbacks to the bellowing synth of the original while also playing with some powerful tones that reminded me of a sort of Mongolian throat singing crafted to foster a sense of inescapable doom. I really loved that the film was perfectly happy to let a quiet scene play out in contrast to the overwhelming score in other scenes. Pairing sight and sound like this created something of a vacuum seal of immersion for me, it was enrapturing. The way Deakins frames each scene is a treat every time a scene cuts to a new location or new character. It’s every DP’s wet dream of colors and movement. Not to mention the exquisite use of lighting, shadows, and silhouettes- film professors and students will likely use this as an example for years to come. So, the film is beautiful-but does the story serve this visual feast?

Yes. I will leave all spoilers to be discovered upon viewing as that’s how I saw the film the initial time and my viewing was that much richer of an experience because of it. I will say though that as far as the performances go, every actor and actress pulled off believable, charming, brooding, and menacing roles that fit the world and the story perfectly. Some have criticized Jared Leto’s performance as “just another weird role from him” and while his character is definitely egotistical and over the top-that’s part of his character and it makes sense given the context of the film. I see no major faults in any of the performances, they fit the mold, and more importantly, the feel of “Bladerunner”. Particularly surprising and equally delightful were Ana de Armas as Joi the artificial love interest of Ryan Gosling’s officer K, and Sylvia Hoeks as Luv, the fierce and terminator-like personal replicant servant of Jared Leto’s Niander Wallace. Both women showed off strong and powerful performances that helped to tie everything together in a painful and lonely punch to the gut. Speaking of which, Ryan Gosling’s performance as Officer K is the linchpin of this whole film, if he couldn’t sell his character’s story as efficiently as he did, the film would have fallen apart. He also gets his fair share of being on the wrong end of many fists throughout the story. After “The Nice Guys”, and now “2049”, Gosling might just be the character actor casting agents seek out when they need a protagonist that can take a few punches to the face while keeping his cool. Of course Harrison Ford cannot be forgotten, he may have given the best performance so far in this recent character revival of his. He wasn’t overused and he was absolutely integral to the plot in a way that was far bigger than I had expected out of this story. Lastly, it must be said- who doesn’t love Dave Bautista and how he has grown as an actor in these recent years? His role here as Sapper Morton was touching while retaining the fact that he’s a force to be reckoned with.

There is a large effort here to posit many philosophical questions about the nature of life and humanity, and while the film doesn’t always answer what it asks- it ponders them with considerable thought. There is, of course, the premise from the first film that still holds a place in the story questioning what is it to be human? “2049” expands on a deeper analysis of similar topics. What is the cost of slavery, and subsequently what does it mean to be free? What is a soul, and how do we decide who has one and if that means that humanity is better than the machines that experience life almost as equally as we do? What is an identity? What is real, and does it even matter? This is post modernism at its peak. The film also cleverly hides a litany of literary references and classic literature buffs will likely delight in the joy of recognizing the prose of Nabokov’s “Pale Fire” in a $150 million dollar blockbuster sci-fi film. From “Treasure Island” to “Peter and the Wolf” and Charles Dickens, the film steeps itself in remnants of our past to better situate itself as an awful outcome of our own history.

 

“Blade Runner: 2049” is a feat of science fiction filmmaking and I personally got a lot out of the film and will be seeing it in theaters at least once more. It’s worth mentioning that this is a very long film and it is a slow paced one at that. While there is a lot more happening in this story than the original it takes its time to tell us. This film will not be everyone’s favorite film of the fall, some might even outright hate it-but if you enjoyed the original film and you have a love of film, especially genre films, you will probably find something to love in “2049”, I certainly did.

Final Score: Nine off-world planets