MARIA DUARTE sees a sequel to a cult sci-fi thriller which just about matches up to the original, plus the rest of the week’s films
Blade Runner 2049 (15), directed by Denis Villeneuve
IT IS either a very brave or foolhardy person who would take on the enormous task of making a sequel to one of the most iconic cult sci-fi films of all time.
But this follow-up Blade Runner is in safe hands. French-Canadian writer-director Denis Villeneuve, with the help of veteran cinematographer Roger A Deakins, delivers a worthy sequel which immerses us deeper into the dystopian universe created by Ridley Scott, who’s a producer here.
Set 30 years after the end of the first film, the world is even more toxic both figuratively and literally. New blade runner LAPD officer K (Ryan Gosling makes the perfect replicant) uncovers a long-buried secret which could destroy what is left of society and it leads him to search for former LAPD blade runner Rick Deckard (Harrison Ford, who gives the film much needed energy and life) who’s been missing for three decades.
That is all I can reveal of the narrative for fear of someone being dispatched to “retire”me.
Painfully long and slow-moving the film is exquisitely elegant and visually breathtakingly cinematic due to Deakins’s awe-inspiring cinematography. He is the real star of the show and his depiction of a radioactive and toxic Las Vegas in ruins haunts and it’s made even more poignant in the light of the horrendous shooting massacre that has just taken place there.
There are ingenious and seamless nods to the original film but Blade Runner 2049’s biggest flaw is the complex and head-turning ideas explored in Hampton Fancher and Michael Green’s screenplay which don’t really bear close scrutiny.
Once again, the focus is on our growing dependence on technology, the road to our self-destruction and the rights and evolution of a minority, be it an android one.
But this is a film which poses more questions than it answers and while it isn’t the ground-breaker that Scott’s original was back in 1982, it’s worth remembering that Blade Runner wasn’t a huge hit as it was so ahead of its time.
So was it worth the wait? For me. the jury is still out. My advice — watch it on the biggest screen possible.
The Mountain Between Us (12A), directed by Hany Abu-Assad
ONLY a celluloid virgin would fail to see where this persuasive blend of romance and battle for survival was going.
The story — an initially mismatched couple finds love while facing death at every turn — is straight out of 1940s Hollywood melodramas.
But what makes it eminently enjoyable are two terrific leading performances.
Stranded at Idaho Airport, photographer Alex Martin (Kate Winslet) hires a small plane to fly her to New York for her wedding the next day and gives British neurosurgeon Ben Bass (Idris Elba) a lift.
Unfortunately, their two-seater aircraft — with the owner’s faithful dog in the co-pilot’s seat — crashes when the pilot has a stroke, leaving the couple stranded in the deep snows of Utah’s Unita Mountains.
Director Hany Abu-Assad’s vivid use of well-chosen Canadian locations and Mandy Walker’s superb cinematography create mounting — or should that be mountain? — suspense as Martin and Bass fight hostile snowbound surroundings to reach civilisation while facing everything from animal traps, a savage cougar and Martin falling through the ice into a freezing lake.
So Is a happy ending in sight? In the hope that that’s the case, Winslet and Elba’s potent performances keep you cheering for them all the way.
On the Road (15), directed by Michael Winterbottom
FILM-MAKER Michael Winterbottom’s work might be a bit hit and miss but he certainly never ceases to surprise and that’s the case with this refreshing and ingenious film about a touring rock band.
This gripping part-drama, part-documentary follows north Londoners Wolf Alice in 2015 as they play 16 cities in three weeks to promote their debut album.
Their British tour is seen through the eyes of two fictional characters who embark on a romance together and who fit in perfectly with the band and their crew. Estelle (Leah Harvey) is an intern with the band’s record company, there to help them with promotional duties, and Joe (James McCardle) is a roadie.
Winterbottom seamlessly blends fact with fiction and the end result is a fascinating and unique look at Wolf Alice in action both on stage and behind the scenes, while the romantic story line unfolds organically.
An eye-opening and impassioned love letter to life on the road.
The Glass Castle (12A), directed by Destin Daniel Cretton
THE GLASS Castle is based on New York magazine gossip columnist Jeanette Walls’s best-selling book about her dysfunctional upbringing.
Brie Larson plays the adult Walls in a film which flashes back and forth from 1989 to her unusual and frequently appalling childhood as one of four siblings learning to survive their brilliant but self-destructively alcoholic father Rex (Woody Harrelson) whose frequent job failures mean they lead a nomadic existence which isn’t helped by their eccentric artist mother Rose Mary (Naomi Watts).
The line “We were never a family, we were a nightmare” vividly sums up a story which, under screenwriter Destin Daniel Cretton’s sometimes rather over-done direction, tends at times to veer towards silent film-style melodrama.
But it’s never dull and it’s decorated by memorable performances, especially by Harrelson, whose thundering, eccentric but constantly riveting characterisation silently screams: “Gimme the Oscar!”
He just might get one, too.
The Reagan Show (PG), directed by Sierra Pettengill and Pacho Velez
HOLLYWOOD star Ronald Reagan — whose 82 screen credits including co-starring with a chimpanzee in Bedtime for Bonzo — was Governor of California in the ’60s and ’70s and was the 40th President of the US from 1981 to 1989.
Before television cameras dominated the news and propaganda, politics were sold to the public by “personality” and oratory by smirking at cameras and conveying sincerity, real or carefully falsified, to the watching television audience.
Directors Sierra Pettengill and Pacho Velez deliver a fascinating documentary, using archival news and unique White House footage from the period to illustrate how screen star Reagan’s mastery of the camera changed political salesmanship for ever.
His co-stars include most notably Mikhail Gorbachev giving him a hard time, his wife Nancy, George Bush and, in an all-too-typical interview, British television personality David Frost who seems rather less at ease with Reagan than Bonzo was.
Directed by Joao Pedro Rodrigues
THIS surreal modern-day interpretation of the life of Saint Anthony of Padua may set the cat amongst the pigeons with its blasphemous overtones.
But if you’re unfamiliar with his story, this might seem more like a warning about the dangers of ornithology in northern Portugal as stranded birdwatcher Fernando (Paul Hamy) is rescued by two Chinese pilgrim girls who rob him and leave him tied up in just his underpants.
On his escape, he meets a plethora of odd-looking characters and undergoes a spiritual and physical transformation.
It’s a film with stunning, sweeping landscapes, in which writer-director Joao Pedro Rodrigues —who also stars — provides a unique perspective on one of Portugal’s patron saints.
A truly bizarre and unfathomable drama which leaves you no wiser about Saint Anthony’s life or works.
Blood Simple (15)
Directed by Joel Coen and Ethan Coen
IN 1984 Blood Simple was the cinematic debut of now hallowed filmmakers the Coen brothers and was hailed almost universally as an impressive masterwork.
They went on to make more classics, notably Barton Fink, Fargo, and The Big Lebowski but they also created depressing duds like The Ladykillers and Hail, Caesar!
Blood Simple was certainly a unique thriller back in the day but in retrospect it’s not quite so impressive and ground-breaking as it was 33 years ago..
In Deepest Texas, bar owner Julian Marty (Dan Hedaya), suspecting that his wife Abby (Frances McDormand) is sleeping with bartender Ray (John Getz), hires private detective Visser (M Emmett Walsh) to get the goods on her — only for the luckless Marty to end up n even worse off state.
Today, Emmett Walsh is still spellbinding and the film fascinates, but more as a preserved slice of cinema history than anything else.