Tag Archives: Denis Villeneuve

Blade Runner 2049 (IMAX 3D)

Director Denis Villeneuve (Arrival, Sicario, Prisoners) said he decided to take on Blade Runner 2049, the long-awaited sequel to the classic 1982 sci-fi hit, because he didn’t anyone else to “f#$% it up.” In the end, not only did he not f#$% it up, he might have made one of the best sci-fi sequels of all time.

It’s visually breathtaking, deeply atmospheric, thought-provoking and narratively satisfying. The scale is epic and yet the story is deeply personal. An instant classic that has shot right to the top of my 2017 list. For me, the most frustrating thing about Blade Runner 2049 is that I have to wait another week before I can see it again (and that’s because of a family vacation)!

I actually didn’t really know what to expect going into this one. I saw the original Blade Runner by Ridley Scott when I was in my late teens and didn’t find it particularly memorable apart from the visuals. What made me watch the movie in the first place was the Blade Runner PC game (released in 1997), which was a pretty shitty game in terms of gameplay but captivated me because of the bleak, rainy, neon-filled futuristic world it depicted. That awe-inspiring vision and atmosphere from the original film and the game (set in 2019) has been transferred to perfection and updated in the sequel (now set in 2049). The world is bleak

That awe-inspiring vision and atmosphere from the original film and the game (set in 2019) has been transferred to perfection and updated in the sequel (now set in 2049). The world still has those same elements but is now as bleak as ever, filled with desolate landscapes of metal and sand. The cities provide a stark contrast with their constant rain, seediness, neon lights and glowing hologram advertisements.

Ryan Gosling plays the central protagonist, a “blade runner” who tracks down old replicants (human clones) and “retires” them, just as Harrison Ford’s character Deckard did in the 1982 film. I don’t want to get into the plot much more than that, but suffice it to say that you don’t need to have seen the original to watch this movie.

There are some fantastic action sequences throughout Blade Runner 2049, but don’t expect an action movie — this is not the Star Trek reboot or Terminator 2: Judgment Day. It’s a true sci-fi film that explores big questions about the human condition, about who we are and what we are, about cloning and nature, about raw feelings and emotions and memories and how all of these things shape us and our reality.

Visually, Blade Runner 2049 is one of the most captivating and jaw-dropping films of the last decade along with Inception and Mad Max: Fury Road. If nothing else, this is the type of movie where you can just sit back and enjoy the visual feast. It’s not just the seamless special effects but also the fabulous set designs, costumes, and cinematography of the amazing Roger Deakins (The Shawshank Redemption and Fargo, two of my favourite movies all time, as well as Sicario, Unbroke, No Country for Old Men, Skyfall, Prisoners, etc.) I saw it IMAX 3D — I like IMAX but hate 3D (it’s a shame they lump the two together to jack up ticket prices) — and will watch it in 2D next time. You really don’t notice the 3D beyond the first 15 minutes or so anyway, but having the massive IMAX screen was definitely a plus.

The film is a confident 2 hours and 43 minutes but doesn’t feel overlong or exhausting. It unfolds at its own pace — with a near-perfect rhythm that gives audiences time to breathe and think. While the storyline itself is unexceptional, the film is a joy to watch largely because of Villeneuve’s sublime vision and direction, well-crafted and thought-provoking ambiguities, gorgeous visuals and world-building, wonderful performances, and its simple yet blaring soundtrack.

There are layers of mysteries, some built upon the first film and some newly created. The script by Hampton Fancher (who co-wrote the original film) and Michael Green (Logan and the upcoming Murder on the Orient Express) keeps many things intentionally vague and open to interpretation. Amazingly, it manages to expand on the same world and deliver a fresh story while preserving some of the most intriguing elements from the first film.  It trusts that viewers are intelligent enough to follow the film and make up their own minds. It’s the kind of movie that can be seen multiple times to spot more clues and be discussed and debated between friends and movie-lovers alike.

As for the performances, Ryan Gosling is absolutely superb, as good as anything he has been in. Harrison Ford is integral to the story but his top billing on the promotional material is a little misleading. The same can be said for Jared Leto, whose role is surprisingly small. The standouts for me are Dutch actress Silvia Hoeks as Luv and Cuban actress Ana de Armas as Joi, who both deliver a lot of power to the film but in different ways. Robin Wright and Dave Bautista also have relatively minor roles. Everyone is really good.

In all, Blade Runner 2049 is a masterclass in filmmaking from Villeneuve. We’ve seen plenty of sequels that come decades after the original in recent years, and pretty much all of them have failed. This is not just a rare exception — it’s arguably better than the original (not sure if it will be revered as much but time will tell) and certainly one of the best sequels and sci-fi movies I’ve ever seen. I’m going to check out the Final Cut version of the orginal and check out the three short films made for the release of the sequel (see below) — and then see it again.

5 stars out of 5

Sicario (2015)


Feels like a million years ago when Steven Soderbergh gave us Traffic, a gritty, dramatic thriller set in the world of drug trafficking. One thing that stood out from that awesome film was the performance of Benicio del Toro, who would go on to win Best Supporting Actor at the Oscars for the role.

Fast forward 15 years, and I’m pretty sure Del Toro has at least another Oscar nomination coming his way. Once again, he plays a pivotal role in a drug trafficking film, this time, Sicario, directed by Denis Villeneuve (Prisoners, Enemy, and the upcoming untitled Blade Runner sequel!).

I remember loving Traffic at the time, and I love Sicario. It’s one of the tensest, most heart-pounding thrillers I’ve seen in years. Fueled by three magnificent performances, a compelling plot and a dash of political intrigue, it’s the type of film that makes you forget how to breathe — in a good way.

Sicario, a term used to represent a Latin American cartel hitman, focuses on the brutal border war by US agents against drugs coming in from Mexico. The narrative is driven by FBI special agent Kate Macer (Emily Blunt), who gets in way over her head when she is recruited to join a mysterious unit headed by Matt Graver (Josh Brolin), a Department of Defense consultant. Along for the ride is another consultant played by Del Toro, whose purpose and motives appear to be quite murky.

From the very first sequence in the film you can tell it’s going to be one of those dark, morbid, gripping crime thrillers where lines are often blurred and crossed. The world depicted is brutal and unforgiving, and viewers need to be prepared for some very uncomfortable, chilling and terrifying moments. Villeneuve adopts tactics that are often seen in horror movies, with no shortage of grotesque images, great use of atmospheric silence, and loud artillery noises that can make you jump out of your seat at any second. The tension is executed so well that even during the slower moments you’re still on edge because you remain fearful that something terrible might happen.

All of this ugliness is contrasted by some magnificent cinematography (Academy Awards, take note) by Roger Deakins, who already has 12 Oscar nominations to his name including Shawshank, Fargo, No Country for Old Men, Skyfall, Prisoner and Unbroken. The sprawling aerial shots of Mexico, the desert landscapes, the desolate night views — it brings a quiet beauty that accentuates all the relentless violence and death. Some of the images in this film have been etched deep into my memory.

Another thing worth noting is the film’s use of sound and music. Sicario has a haunting soundtrack by Jóhann Jóhannsson (The Theory of Everything) that’s extremely effective because of how minimalist it is. Each beat adds to the adrenaline without being overwhelming or taking the attention away from the story at hand.

What really makes Sicario stand out, however, is Villeneuve’s ability to humanise each character, no matter which side they are on. Everyone has a weakness, a vulnerability that others exploit. Good and bad is not clear cut — it’s more a matter of your individual point of view, and doing what you think is right and what it takes to survive.

Full credit to Blunt, Brolin and Del Toro for their riveting performances and the casting department in getting it right. After Edge of Tomorrow, it’s easy to see Blunt as a badass, and I love her complex mix of courage and fear as a woman in the man’s world of drug cartels. It really brings a different perspective and tone to the story.

Brolin’s of course solid as always, and he gets to be a little more laid back than we’re accustomed to seeing him as of late. But it is of course Del Toro who steals the show — as much as the show can be stolen from the other two — with his typical “what the hell is he thinking” facial expressions and brooding, physical presence. The dude is just an absolute legend and I can’t wait to see what he brings to the table in Star Wars Episode VIII!

I’ve been racking my brain to try and think of things I didn’t like about this movie. I can’t. It’s not the easiest movie to watch or the most entertaining movie out there, but just everything about Sicario is borderline masterful; I loved the performances, the stylish direction, the cinematography, the sounds, and above all the numbing tension. It is without a doubt one of the year’s best films.

4.75 stars out of 5

Movie Review: Prisoners (2013)

Prisoners poster

I really wanted to watch this one and I’m glad I got the chance because it’s very very good. It’s the type of film that could have been a B-movie but ended up being a punch-in-the-gut type thriller because of the confident direction of Denis Villeneuve, the terrific ensemble cast and powerful performances by the two leads, Hugh Jackman and Jake Gyllenhaal.

The story starts off simple: Jackman and his wife Maria Bello take their daughter to the home of their friends played by Terrence Howard and Viola Davis, who have a daughter of their own. The two girls go missing, and Jackman, who is a bit of a hotheaded psycho, decides to take matters into his own hands even though the case is being handled by a very capable detective played by Gyllenhaal. That’s a nice little premise summary that doesn’t give too much away, and the only thing I will add is that the film’s title is an apt one.

Prisoners is a dark, disturbing and emotional roller coaster ride that will have you questioning right and wrong and the lengths you would go to if your own child was taken and you feel like the police aren’t doing their job properly. It’s brutally violent but not in a gratuitous way because the psychological impact wouldn’t have been the same without it. There aren’t a lot, but there a few solid twists and turns which I much prefer to a lot of cheap ones, and it keeps up the tension as the characters become more desperate with the clock running out.

A big part of the reason why the film is so compelling is the performances of Jackman and Gyllenhall. These are complex characters with demons lurking behind them in the shadows, without these two Oscar-nominated actors in the roles I’m not sure all the layers could have been brought out as well as they were.

Also fantastic is Paul Dano, who I have always been a big fan of, as a mentally challenged suspect. Melissa Leo is again a chameleon in yet another unrecognisable role, while Terrence Howard, Viola Davis and Mario Bello round out the superb ensemble cast by making the most of their more limited screen time.

While there is nothing jaw-dropping or groundbreaking about the plot and the final revelations don’t quite live up to the rest of the film, Prisoners is still one of the best suspense thrillers of the year, an unsettling, creepy climb into darkness thanks to effective execution and great performances from the all-star cast.

4 stars out of 5