Out on Friday October 6
Ryan Gosling and Harrison Ford lead the long-awaited Blade Runner sequel. Brie Larson shows her wild side. The Coen brothers’ stellar debut returns to cinemas.
Yes, here's this week's new releases. Click on for our reviews of Blade Runner 2049, The Glass Castle, Blood Simple: Director’s Cut, The Reagan Show, The Mountain Between Us, and The Night is Short, Walk on Girl.
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Blade Runner 2049
How do you solve a problem like Rick Deckard? Schrodinger’s proverbial protagonist has been stuck in a quantum state – both replicant and real boy – since Blade Runner’s ambiguous origami-unicorn finale. Any sequel has to address the biggest question in science fiction and, rest assured, 2049 does (sort of). But it’s a testament to director Denis Villeneuve’s spectacular cyberpunk sequel that the nature of Deckard’s identity doesn’t matter – this is a film with much bigger artificial fish to fry.
A world away from the quip-laden superhero smackdowns and ’saber-swinging galactic romps that dominate modern blockbusters, Blade Runner 2049 is a methodically paced, thematically rich neo-noir detective story that eschews sugar-rush action in favour of melancholy musings on isolation, identity and humanity.
In other words, it’s a Blade Runner sequel through and through. “You’ve never seen a miracle,” Dave Bautista’s Sapper Morton says to Ryan Gosling’s replicant-retiring blade runner Officer K during an enthralling opening gambit. The real miracle is that Villeneuve and co. have crafted a successor to Ridley Scott’s genre-transcending masterpiece that exceeds even the loftiest expectations.
Remarkably, 2049’s entire premise (revealed in the first five minutes) has somehow been kept completely under wraps, and for good reason. It’s a constantly reconfiguring mystery box of a movie. Seismic secrets are drip-fed throughout the meticulously constructed script – penned by Michael Green (Logan) and returning screenwriter Hampton Fancher.
The less you know the better, but here are the essentials: 30 years after the events of the first film, K unearths a secret with the potential to “break the world”, putting him on a collision course with Rick Deckard. What follows is an intelligent, twisty enigma that trusts its audience to piece together the clues, the film’s dream logic cohering into a supremely satisfying, emotionally compelling whole.
If Villeneuve was a filmmaker at the top of his game with last year’s Arrival, he proves himself an irrefutable maestro of his craft here – 2049 is the perfect vehicle for the smart, exquisitely shot slow-burners that have defined his career (Incendies, Prisoners, Sicario). He also proves more than a match for Ridley Scott as a world-builder. Perfectly preserving the dirty, retrofitted design of the original, while moving Blade Runner’s vision of an ecologically ravaged North America forward in thrilling ways, it’s a retina-melting big-screen spectacle – VFX, cinematography, costume and production design are all next-level sensational.
It’s been specially formatted for IMAX – if you can, go see it on the big(ger) screen, because every inch of the colossal frame dazzles. From the smog-diffused skylines of LA’s crepuscular urban sprawl to the breathtaking burnt-orange hues of the irradiated Las Vegas wasteland, it never looks anything less than awe-inspiring.
As for the all-important music, Benjamin Wallfisch and Hans Zimmer’s oppressive, percussive, synth-heavy score is unflinchingly loyal to the spirit of Vangelis, and makes admirable use of pin-drop silence. But, it has to be said, it never comes close to the transcendental heights of the original; atonal rather than thematic, supporting rather than elevating the material.
The same certainly can’t be said for Gosling. Far from a re-heated Rick Deckard, K is a different beast entirely. Gosling delivers a performance of impressive nuance and anguish while proving more than a match for the role’s physical demands. As for Deckard, it’s all but impossible to discuss his involvement without detonating a spoiler nuke.
But if Harrison Ford’s Gap get-up set alarm bells ringing pre-release worry not – there’s some weighty material here that Ford fully commits to, Deckard receiving a poignant payoff after his 30 years in the wilderness. He even gets a cracking chase that flips an iconic sequence from the original on its head. But it’s important to note this is Gosling’s movie, and better for it.
The rest of the cast – including Jared Leto’s Tyrell-esque Niander Wallace, his right-hand woman Luv (Sylvia Hoeks) and Ana de Armas’ Joi – all make robust additions, and harbour their own epochal secrets (naturally). The lack of an antagonist as impactful as Rutger Hauer’s poetic Roy Batty is the only significant shortcoming that can be mentioned without deep diving into a handful of questionable plot specifics. And there’s no getting around the fact it’s a long, largely humourless experience.
Thirty-five years ago, Blade Runner was misunderstood and dismissed in the summer of E.T. It remains to be seen whether mainstream audiences will prove more receptive to this equally esoteric follow-up in 2017. Villeneuve’s film is a direct continuation in every respect; it’s difficult to imagine anyone – even Ridley Scott – making a better Blade Runner sequel. We truly have seen things you people wouldn’t believe...
THE VERDICT: An exquisitely crafted sequel that stands shoulder to shoulder with one of the greatest films ever made. Everyone involved is operating at the height of their powers.
Director: Denis Villeneuve; Starring: Ryan Gosling, Harrison Ford, Jared Leto, Ana de Armas, Sylvia Hoeks, Robin Wright; Theatrical release: October 5, 2017
The Glass Castle
Room (opens in new tab) won Brie Larson her Oscar, catapulting her to Kong: Skull Island (opens in new tab) and Captain Marvel (opens in new tab). But it was 2013 indie Short Term 12 (opens in new tab) that first turned heads: under Destin Daniel Cretton’s empathetic direction, Larson is terrific as a troubled counsellor of troubled teenagers.
Which makes this director-star reunion hugely exciting. A biopic of gossip columnist Jeannette Walls, The Glass Castle seesaws between its subject’s dirt-poor upbringing (Ella Anderson plays the young Jeannette) at the hands of her free-spirit parents (Woody Harrelson, Naomi Watts) and her efforts to disown her off-the-grid childhood as she becomes a writer in ’80s New York. Not easy when your folks squat on the Lower East Side to keep tabs on your career…
If the flip-flopping structure feels a little writerly, it can be excused given its subject’s profession. Larson summons great emotion with one brush of her coiffure, while the fracturing of bonds between Walls and her larger-than-life father is played with ebb-and-flow complexity by Harrelson and Larson.
The Glass Castle perhaps brings too much discipline to Walls’ messy life, but it makes for a compelling, adult-orientated drama, the likes of which are too seldom seen in today’s American mainstream cinema.
THE VERDICT: Well-acted, well-made and well-intentioned, but not quite strong enough to gain the awards traction it would desire.
Director: Destin Daniel Cretton; Starring: Brie Larson, Woody Harrelson, Naomi Watts; Theatrical release: October 6, 2017
Blood Simple: Director’s Cut
With their 1984 directorial debut, the Coen brothers showed the surefootedness with which they would ease themselves into one genre after another, reworking each to fit their deadpan vision.
Blood Simple (re-released in Coen-approved 4K) gave devotees of ruthless black comedy cause to cheer, and offered M. Emmet Walsh, as its ultra-sleazy PI, the role of a lifetime.
Directors: Joel Coen, Ethan Coen; Starring: John Getz, Frances McDormand, Dan Hedaya; Theatrical release: October 6, 2017
The Reagan Show
Composed of archival footage, this irony-laden documentary looks back at the image-obsessed presidency of ex-movie star Ronald Reagan, specifically his mediated encounters with Russian counterpart Mikhail Gorbachev.
The film’s analysis is somewhat superficial, but comparisons to current White House incumbent Donald Trump’s vows to “make America great again” are inevitable.
Directors: Sierra Pettengill, Pacho Velez; Starring: Ronald Reagan, Nancy Reagan, Mikhail Gorbachev; Theatrical release: October 6, 2017
The Night is Short, Walk on Girl
Propelled by a fizzing, free-form animation style, Masaaki Yuasa’s film follows a young woman (Kana Hanazawa) on a surrealist romp through Kyoto’s streets.
Drinking, dancing, perverts, a book god, guerrilla theatre and a man who won’t change his pants until he finds true love all feature. The farce is infectiously fun and visually joyous.
Director: Masaaki Yuasa; Starring: Gen Hoshino, Hiroshi Kamiya; Theatrical release: October 4, 2017
The Mountain Between Us
Kate Winslet and Idris Elba feel the chill in Hany Abu-Assad’s overly sentimental survival drama. After their plane crashes in the mountains, her journalist and his surgeon try to make it home.
The setting’s breathtaking, the romance mind-numbing. But while Elba’s frozen expressions add little, Winslet impresses with her most physically demanding role since Titanic.
Director: Hany Abu-Assad; Starring: Kate Winslet, Idris Elba; Theatrical release: October 6, 2017