Blade Runner 2049

Perhaps one of the most anticipated sequels of recent times (amongst film buffs and sci-fi nerds at least, as box office figures suggest the mainstream viewing public hasn’t shared such enthusiasm), Blade Runner 2049 satisfies most in the way that it is nothing more, or less, than we could have hoped from such an undertaking, which is great. In the hands of director Canadian director Denis Villeneuve (Sicario, Arrival),  this continuation of the story contains most of the elements that made the first film so exceptional, although it is cinematographer Roger Deakins who is perhaps the real hero in his stunning rendering of a not-too-distant future that is bleak and eerily beautiful all at once. As was the case in the first film (released in 1982), rain is ever present in the neon-saturated vision of Los Angeles in which a new breed of bio-engineered synthetic humans known as replicants work as blade runners, the title given to those responsible for tracking down earlier versions of their kind who have managed to thus far avoid detection and mandatory decommissioning.

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A perfectly cast Ryan Gosling is a blade runner known only as K and the film opens with him tracking down a replicant (Dave Bautista impressing in a small role) living a peaceful life and seemingly little threat to anybody; but rules are rules and he has to go. What K discovers in the course of this mission kick starts what becomes a detective story as he sets forth on an existential quest in search of answers to the mysteries of his own past (about which he knows nothing because all of his memories have supposedly been implanted). This ultimately leads him to Rick Deckard (Harrison Ford), the central figure from the first film; a former cop and blade runner who is now living in exile. Those who have been besotted with the ambiguities from the first film probably won’t find the clarity they seek because once again there is nothing definitive offered with regard to whether Deckard is, in fact, a replicant, although I think Villeneuve’s film makes it much easier to mount an argument challenging such a notion, but it is far from conclusive.

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There are times when the stunning visuals, production design and musical score (courtesy of Hans Zimmer and Benjamin Wallfisch) threaten to overwhelm the action and there are certainly some characters and story elements – such as K’s virtual girlfriend Joi (Ana de Armas) – that seem more about hypothesising on the nature of future technology than serving any narrative imperative. However, there are some strong female characters in Lieutenant Joshi (Robin Wright) and Luv (Sylvia Hoecks), while Sean Young’s Rachael is resurrected from the first film and there has been conflicting reports about just how much of a role, if any, the notoriously outspoken, career-sabotaging Young actually played in the CGI-rendering of the character.  Gosling is pitch perfect as the emotionless, clinical replicant who starts to question the nature of his own existence, while Jared Leto features in a role seemingly made for his particular brand of weirdness and the likes of Edward James Olmos and Barkhad Abdi also appear briefly.

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Thankfully, Villeneuve has not set out to try and improve upon, replace or remake the original. He has made an entirely new piece that complements and enhances Ridley Scott’s first screen incarnation of Phillip Dick’s novel Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?. Like Scott’s masterwork, Blade Runner 2049 muses on the nature of humanity and poses more questions than it answers. Philosophical and no doubt more accessible for those already familiar with this world, it doesn’t matter that this might fall marginally short of the impeccable standard of its predecessor, because Villeneuve has constructed a piece of art that that stands tall as a great film in its own right.

Hounds of Love

If the thought of Dale Kerrigan from The Castle as a sexual predator and serial killer is likely to mess with your head, or break your heart, Hounds of Love is probably not for you. Perhaps best known for his comedic turns in movies (The Nugget, Take Away) and myriad television performances, Stephen Curry has proven himself equally adept at drama (The Cup),  although never before with a character quite as dark and disturbed as the manipulative, malevolent John White. Written and directed by first-timer Ben Young, Hounds of Love delves into the dark underbelly of Australian suburbia as White and his wife Evelyn (a de-glamorised Emma Booth) prey on teenage girls with most sinister intent.

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It is 1980-something in the suburbs of Perth where John and Evelyn prey on their victims, of whom there have been several prior to the series of events to which we become privy. Evelyn is a much more reluctant participant than her husband – her motivation resting on her desire to please him rather than the type of perverse pleasure that he draws from the encounters – but given it is only her involvement that enables John to access to the young women he keeps confined to a boarded-up bedroom in their otherwise unremarkable house, her culpability cannot be dismissed even though Young pitches her as a victim. The director has pointedly contended that, whilst the film has been marketed as such, he doesn’t see Hounds of Love as a horror film and, whilst that is a reasonable assessment, he does rely on the conventions of the genre, most noticeably the way in which the young victims are presented as being responsible for the horrors that subsequently befall them. The film opens with John and Evelyn watching a group of girls playing netball – a scene that plays out in agonising super slow motion – before they lure one of them into their car under the pretext of a lift home. Whilst we don’t learn of the fate of this particular young woman until later in the piece, it is the next victim around which the story revolves.      .

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Vicky Maloney (Ashleigh Cummings) splits her time between her wealthy easygoing doctor father Trevor (Damian de Montemas) and her much more circumspect mother Maggie (Susie Porter), with whom she enjoys a somewhat strained relationship. When Maggie forbids Vicky from attending a party, she does what any self-respecting teenager would do and sneaks out regardless. Now, of course, such an act of defiance cannot go unpunished and, soon enough, Vicky finds herself bound, gagged and subject to all manner of deprivations. In the sanctity of his home, John is a brutish, manipulative psychopath, yet when he ventures outside, we discover that he is an object of ridicule in the neighbourhood and subject to bullying at the hands of the local drug dealer. The worrying thing is that this is almost offered as an excuse to justify John’s abhorrent behaviours. Furthermore, Young presents the indifference of John and Evelyn’s neighbours as being complicit in the horrors that Vicky (and those before her) endures, the specifics of which are easy enough to imagine even though they are never shown.

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Curry and Booth are eerily effective in the leads, although almost everybody suffers at the hands of a screenplay that lacks clarity and a narrative that doesn’t always follow a logical trajectory. There is plenty of tension in the final moments though as a three-way stand-off develops inside the house as Maggie and Trevor search desperately for Vicky sans any assistance from the police, who have declared Vicky’s disappearance (and those of all the missing girls whose pictures adorn the walls of the police station) as an act of teenage rebellion. Cinematographer Michael McDermott captures the tedium of Australian suburban life to great effect and the design team has deftly recreated the hideousness of 1980’s design and style. An ugly and uncomfortable movie despite Young’s efforts to spare us the gory details, Hounds of Love suffers from its desire to elicit sympathy for two particularly nasty predators.

 

Final Portrait

It seems that Geoffrey Rush is the go-to man when it comes to casting the crazy genius. Whilst the level of crazy has varied from those who are merely eccentric, left-of-centre and a little bit odd to others who are stark raving mad, Rush has proven equally adept across the spectrum. Whether it be piano virtuoso David Helfgott or theoretical physicist Albert Einstein, comedian Peter Sellers or libertine philosopher Marquis De Sade, Rush has never shied away from the scrutiny that inevitably accompanies any characterisation of real life characters. In Final Portrait, it is Swiss artist Alberto Giacometti who gets the Rush treatment in this latest directorial effort from Stanley Tucci, his first since 2007’s Blind Date. Giacometti, if this representation is to be believed, was a talented painter and sculptor riddled with self-doubt who worked at an infuriatingly slow pace, preferring to spend his time in the company of others, much to the chagrin of his long-suffering wife Annette (Sylvie Testud).

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The film covers a period of just a few weeks in the life of Giacometti, told from the point-of-view of American writer James Lord (Armie Hammer, with little to do other than look pretty), a friend of the artist who agrees to sit for a portrait, a commitment that Giacometti assures him will require no more than a few hours of his time. However, the project ultimately drags on for weeks with Giacometti constantly berating himself and insisting that he needs to start again. It is very difficult to determine how much time the pair spent together in the studio because each of the sessions only occupy a minute or two of screen time (presumably much, much longer in reality), making it seem as though Giacometti gives up before he even really begins. It is also difficult to determine whether Giacometti’s inability to get the painting finished is because of a genuine dissatisfaction with the work or whether it is because he simply likes Lord’s company, which is certainly the case when it comes to Giacometti’s portrait sessions with Caroline (Clémence Poésy), a young prostitute with whom he enjoys a relationship, the nature of which, like so much of what we see, is never articulated clearly.

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Albert and Caroline are certainly very affectionate towards one another and whilst  we see nothing that suggests they are engaged in a sexual relationship, there are obviously assumptions that can be made given her line of work and with Tucci, who also wrote the screenplay, offering little by way any clarity in this regard, such postulations are all we are left with. Tony Shalhoub (TV’s Monk) is terrifically understated and almost unrecognisable as Giacometti’s brother and collaborator Diego, a perpetually patient presence resigned to Alberto’s eccentricities and insecurities who developed a reputation of considerable renown as a sculptor in his own right.

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Whilst the design team have recreated the ramshackle studio in which Giacometti worked with considerable accuracy, Tucci has compromised the authenticity of the piece by presenting the dialogue in English despite the fact that, according to various testimonies from people who had interactions with him, Giacometti could not speak a word of it. As such, whilst there is a significant physical resemblance between Rush and Giacometti, there is never a point when watching Final Portrait in which you lose yourself enough in the events to shed the lingering sense that there is something not quite right in Rush’s rendition of a character whose language no doubt formed a very large part of the way in which he expressed himself. For those who can forgive Tucci his willingness to sacrifice authenticity in a bid to entice those viewers for whom a foreign-language film is a fate worse than death, Final Portrait should prove enjoyable enough in the moment, but is unlikely to leave a lasting impression.