Blade Runner 2049 (First Viewing)

Blade Runner 2049 is a 2017 neo-noir science fiction film starring Ryan Gosling, Harrison Ford, Ana de Armas, Sylvia Hoeks, Robin Wright, Dave Bautista, and Jared Leto. A sequel to Ridley Scott’s 1982 cult classic Blade Runner, 2049 is directed by Denis Villeneuve and written by Hampton Francher and Michael Green. Francher is one of the two people who wrote the screenplay for the original film. 2049 takes place 30 years after the original film and follows K, a Blade Runner employed by the LAPD to hunt down rouge and dangerous Replicants, bio-engineered humans. K uncovers a vast conspiracy which leads him to retired Blade Runner Rick Deckard.

I left the theater an hour ago and am still processing what I just saw. I am struggling to come up with words. Villeneuve, director of one of my all-time favorite films, 2015’s Sicario, as well as 2013’s brilliant Prisoners, will be credited with creating a piece of film history. It will not be immediately apparent, as some, like Forbes, seem to be ripping into this movie unfairly. I don’t understand their criticisms. 2049 is a slow burn, but so was the original, and, as I recently discussed, that is not at all a bad thing. I won’t go so far as to label it or put it in league with the greatest films of all time, the authority to make that distinction belongs only to history itself. I will, however, say that it most certainly lives up to, and may even surpass, the original masterpiece.

I don’t even know where to begin. Villeneuve and his director of photography Roger Deakins, who is the best cinematographer working in the business today, have managed to create a futuristic world that is a perfect continuation of what the future would look like in 2049, through the lens of the original’s version of 2019. It feels very natural, and it has, as I expected, the best cinematography I’ve seen all year. I would expect nothing less from Deakins, who has been the man behind the camera for all of Villeneuve’s English-language directorial efforts. The world of 2049 is nothing short of beautiful.

2049 is a completely organic continuation of the original in terms of story and characters, as well. Every character, new or old, feels like a part of this world. Absolutely nothing about this sequel felt forced or unoriginal; quite the opposite, actually. The best sequels are ones that can stand on their own as being good movies, without having to be compared to or unnecessarily reference the original film. 2049 comes to us 35 years after the original hit theaters, but there’s no forced nostalgia here. 2049 stands on its own, and it stands very, very tall.

Ryan Gosling is brilliant here. The new characters introduced in this film have more emotional and psychological depth than anyone in the original, including Deckard himself, and this is coming from someone who loves the original. K, explicitly a Nexus Class 8 Replicant, is a deeply conflicted and confused character, and Gosling portrays that confusion and K’s anger and rage perfectly. With 2011’s Drive and last year’s La La Land, I have grown to respect Ryan Gosling as more than just a pretty boy with less range than a wet piece of plywood, which is what I used to think of him. With K, my growing respect has now solidified, and I can now stand by him as one of Hollywood’s major players. Everyone else gives a flawless performance, as well. I was especially impressed with Ana de Armas’ performance as Joi. Harrison Ford gives his best performance in recent years, maybe since the original Blade Runner.

Like the original film, 2049 is a very philosophical and existential tale. It is one of the most weighty and complex films I have ever seen, in terms of narrative and the many layers found when digging deeper in. K faces prejudice in his life from nearly everyone he meets, even his empathetic boss. He is looked at differently for his unnatural origins, even though, like Roy Batty, he is essentially human in every other way. He has his own emotions, feelings, and ideas, and yet, he is seen as less just because he was not born, but created. He seems to have internalized these feelings, expressing that, since he was not born, he lacks a soul, an idea which his boss callously reinforces. This question of what defines a human was explored in-depth in the original, and Francher uses this opportunity to keep going, right where he left off in 1982. I spent two full college class periods analyzing Blade Runner, and the only reason we stopped is because we, regrettably, had to move on to another film. You could fill an entire semester of an upper-level philosophy course with questions from 2049 alone.

The original film asked a lot of questions and provided few answers. A large portion, if not a majority of the film, is left entirely up to interpretation, which added to the film’s legacy and reputation over time. 2049 could have easily been ruined by answering any questions. Answering questions definitively in a narrative such as this will confuse and anger people, because that would invalidate their thoughts and beliefs as to what the open-ended stuff means. Thankfully, 2049 answers nothing, and leaves audiences a fresh new pile of questions to ponder. I left the theater with nothing but more ambiguity and questions, and it was awesome.

2049, like its predecessor, is not for everyone. Not everyone is going to like it. Not everyone liked the original. 2049, although a big-budget sequel to possibly the most influential science-fiction film ever, is not what I would consider a mainstream film. In fact, I would say that some sequences and elements of this film have a more art house/experimental feel to them. The original did, as well. They are both, as I have discussed, slow burns that focus more on theme than plot. 2049 is not a blockbuster action film. There are invigorating scenes of action in here on par with Sicario’s traffic jam scene, but they are few and far in-between. Seriously, if you haven’t seen Sicario, go watch it now.

2049 is a think piece. I think mainstream moviegoers might take a cursory look at Blade Runner’s legacy, completely misunderstand how and why it is so influential and why it has a legacy, and think it must have been a fast-paced, slick, awesome flick, because that’s what all good movies are, right? Wrong. It is not, and 2049 isn’t either. If you go into 2049 expecting anything like Baby Driver or John Wick, you will be woefully bored and disappointed. Both are low-concept, philosophical think pieces that use science-fiction as a vehicle; both are so uniquely their own I can’t think of appropriate comparisons.

With that caveat out of the way, 2049 is quite possibly the perfect sequel. I remember a lot of people were concerned that Scott was handing over the reigns to a different director, but French-Canadian director Denis Villeneuve has succeeded at the task of creating a sequel that not only stands up to, but in many ways surpasses the original, and considering how firmly entrenched in film history the original is, that should have been a near-impossible feat. Villeneuve has succeeded in a way no one else could, creating not only the perfect sequel, but also a film that may also end up with its own personal legacy 30 years from now. With excellent set design, excellent cinematography, excellent acting, excellent effects, and an extraordinary script, Denis Villeneuve is the director of not one, but two of my Top 10 Favorite Films, which is a first. I get if you don’t like it. Honestly, you very well might not. I, however, most definitely did. The parenthetical means I might go more in-depth on this someday, by the way. I should probably learn how to say Denis Villeneuve out loud, right? I can barely spell it.

 

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La La Land

La La Land is a 2016 romantic dramedy musical film written and directed by Whiplash mastermind Damien Chazelle, with a score and musical numbers by fellow Whiplash collaborator Justin Hurwitz. The film stars Emma Stone as aspiring actress Mia Dolan. Struggling after a number of botched auditions, Mia has several brief and curt encounters with Sebastian, a struggling musician and jazz fanatic. Although their first few encounters are of a sarcastic and playfully rude nature, their relationship blossoms into one of the romantic variety. The film mainly follows their relationship over the course of a year, with the “chapters” of the film separated into the four seasons. La La Land follows the couple’s attempts to balance their relationship and their own personal dreams and aspirations for the future.

Damien Chazelle’s previous and breakout film, 2014’s brilliant indie drama Whiplash, was, in fact, developed out of frustration due to the inability to get La La Land, which has been his passion project since its inception, off the ground. The passion Chazelle has for this film is abundantly clear; La La Land, in my opinion, is a truly great film in nearly every aspect. I must admit, I have always been quick to dismiss Ryan Gosling as a pretty boy with no true acting experience a la Channing Tatum, mainly because of his work in horrible melodramatic trash like The Notebook or 2013’s blehtastic Gangster Squad. I realize after seeing La La Land (as well as Drive and the upcoming Blade Runner 2049) that I was wrong to dismiss him as a walking piece of wood, because he is honestly really great here. However, I will also say that he is still slightly upstaged by Emma Stone. Gosling’s Sebastian is great and empathetic, but Mia, as played by Stone, is the real emotional center of this film. I ended up liking her a bit more because (and I believe this to be intentional) Sebastian, although a overall decent and likable guy, can, despite noble and clear intentions, be a little bit of a dick, for lack of a better word. Stone is also the better performer, from a musical perspective, with the final musical number from the audition scene being the most powerful and emotionally-charged number in the entire soundtrack, not to say that Gosling’s “City of Stars” wasn’t great, though, because all the musical numbers are ridiculously impressive.

La La Land, somewhat surprisingly, benefits from some extremely impressive cinematography, which most movies of this nature, even the great ones, aren’t really known for at all. Newcomer Linus Sandgren seems to employ long takes over using a lot of cuts, which is a good thing. Most impressively, (don’t quote me because I’m not positive), I’m pretty sure the opening musical number “Another Day Of Sun,” which took place on a gridlocked Los Angeles highway, accompanied with a rather complicated ensemble dance routine, was all done in a single take. The sequence, from beginning to end, from my recollection, lasted about five or six minutes with no discernible cuts or transitions. It was very impressive.

La La Land, as a phrase, is a two-fold reference. Namely, it refers to the fantastical elements of a person’s imagination. The title is also a reference to Los Angeles itself, namely Hollywood; it is a more dated and old-fashioned reference, which is appropriate. La La Land is an old-fashioned throwback to the location’s wartime era glory days of the 1930’s and 40’s while still adhering to the conventions of current society. Everything from the music, to the dialogue (to wit there are overt and covert references to Golden Age films like Casablanca and Rebel Without A Cause, as well as some other films), to the overall tone of the film is a perfectly executed return to the days of yore; it works excellently and effortlessly.

La La Land is escapism at its finest. I was invested the entire time, entirely disconnected from the problems in my life, simply experiencing the story for myself. This may surprise you, but it’s hard for me to invest in a movie so much that I literally escape. I mean, they get me invested, but I’m still conscious of the stuff I have to deal with in my life. Not here; for two hours and eight minutes, I literally did not care. La La Land certainly lives up to its title.

I’ve seen La La Land twice now. I was surprised to find this film had decent showtimes available, even after, like, a month. This probably has something to do with the fact that it’s winning all of the awards! La La Land has received a record-tying fourteen award nominations at the upcoming Academy Awards, a feat achieved only by Titanic in 1997 and All About Eve in 1950. The nominations are Best Picture, Best Director (for Chazelle), Best Actor (for Gosling), Best Actress (for Stone), Best Original Screenplay, Best Cinematography, Best Film Editing, Best Costume Design, Best Original Score, two nominations for Best Original Song (“City of Stars” and “Audition (The Fools Who Dream)”), Best Production Design, Best Sound Editing, and Best Sound Mixing. I hazard that the film will win a good chunk of those nominations, and it very much deserves to. La La Land has also received countless other nominations at countless outlets.

In case you didn’t figure this out, La La Land is a pretty friggin’ great movie. It features great performances from its two leads, as well as a wonderful soundtrack, an emotional script, impressively complex dance numbers, and surprisingly on-point cinematography. It is worthy of a lot of the praise it is getting; it was just as enjoyable on my second watch as it was on my first. There’s not much more to say other than I thought it was awesome. I know it is really late to be publishing this review, but there’s still decent showings everywhere, so go now and watch it, because you will like it.