Sunday, 15 October 2017


"A system of cells interlinked within / Cells interlinked within cells interlinked / Within one stem. And dreadfully distinct / Against the dark, a tall white fountain played."

I was right to dismiss the early reviews that claimed that BLADE RUNNER 2049 surpasses the original, but it comes so tantalisingly close to matching the perfection of Scott's film that it has to be considered a resounding success. Denis Villeneuve's film isn't just a worthy sequel to the 1982 classic, but a towering artistic achievement, and a science fiction masterpiece in its own right. I'm already calling it: this is the best film of 2017.

Long-asked questions are answered, others aren't, some new questions are posed, and in that way it retains the air of mystery and ambiguity that has helped make the original so enduring. Aside from its genuinely intriguing noirish detective plot, 2049's greatest achievement might be that it manages to expand on the original's observations about the nature of consciousness in ways that are surprising and deeply moving.

To that end, the relationship between Ryan Gosling's Officer K and Joi, his holographic "love" A.I., may seem like an aside to the central plot (which is, in a nutshell: K's discovery of a long buried secret, what that secret means for him and the world at large, and his subsequent search for fugitive Blade Runner, Rick Deckard), but it is in fact the vital, beating heart of the film. It takes BLADE RUNNER's consciousness debate to a new level by presenting 2049's society as a multi layered caste system, based around the values placed on different forms of consciousness. A society maintained completely by slavery and prejudice.

When pleasure model Mariette (with a disturbing resemblance to Daryl Hannah's Pris) says to Joi "I've been inside you, and there's not as much there as you think", the heartbroken look on Joi's face says it all. In this terrible world, where everyone is being used just to make the life of the person above them that much more tolerable... she's the bottom of the heap. For us, Joi's eventual fate, and its effect on K, proves to be as emotionally gutting as Roy's death in the original.

Thankfully, Ford doesn't sleep walk through this, as he has through so many of his roles over the last 20 years. He's actually very good. This film belongs to Sylvia Hoeks though. Her Luv is a cyberpunk character for the ages. She's ultra cool, but in her own way this combat model replicant is a character as tragic as Joi. Whenever Hoeks is on screen, it burns.

Ultimately though, BLADE RUNNER 2049 belongs to D.O.P. Roger Deakins (and the production design and fx depts) for creating one of the most visually mindblowing sci-fi films ever committed to film. From the desolate vistas of California's endless bio-farms and (redundant?) solar arrays, to the terrifying expanses of rain-soaked L.A. and radiation-burnt Las Vegas, every second is jaw-droppingly gorgeous. Deakins has got to win all the awards for this. I haven't even mentioned the eye-popping interiors of Niander Wallace's corporate H.Q., a series of spaces that are somehow ethereally beautiful and oppressively inhuman - as if they were designed to be inhabited by gods - at the same time.

What's more to say? I was anxious about the score, especially given the late-in-production firing of Villeneuve's regular composer, Jóhann Jóhannsson. So I'm delighted to say that I'm in love with Zimmer and Wallfisch's powerful music. It sits well with Vangelis' iconic score, but is also very much its own beast, a sonic blast that is very much in keeping with the images of monolithic dystopia that are unfolding on screen.

From an aesthetic point of view I did miss the urban throngs that jam the streets of the original, such a convincing cultural melting-pot, but a good reason is given for their absence: with at least nine successful colonies established throughout the solar system, everyone who can has moved Off-World. As far as they can get from a choking, diseased and dying Earth.*

So, that's it. After decades of waiting, Denis Villeneuve and co. have somehow pulled off the seemingly impossible. An almost perfect sequel to a perfect film. As in 1982, it would appear that BR 2049 is destined for financial failure. Too slow; too arty; perhaps too prescient a vision of our future for comfort. I for one have seen it twice and am planning a third viewing. I urge you not to miss this deeply affecting and visually stunning masterwork on the biggest, loudest screen you can find.

*Another criticism of 2049's design aesthetic that people are picking on, but which is easily and logically explained: L.A. 2049's streets and interiors appear to be less cluttered and filthy. This is obviously due to the fact that the city of 2019 was built on the retrofitted and crumbling infrastructure of 20th century L.A., as exemplified by the filthy interior of L.A.P.D. H.Q., and the dank and dilapidated state of the Bradbury building. The L.A. we see in the first film simply hasn't caught up to the challenges presented by the population explosion and ecological disaster that has beset it.

However, by 2049 we see some improvements brought about by the sheer necessity of living in such a hostile environment. The interiors of the new Police H.Q. are hermetically sealed against pollutants and weather, as is K's apartment. The streets, already less crowded due to the presumed Off-World diaspora, are kept cleaner by employing humanity's age-old solution: out of sight, out of mind. See the endless landscape of human waste that covers what was once San Diego, and the titanic barges that feed it.

Monday, 2 October 2017


I'm only halfway through, but Jeff VanderMeer's Southern Reach trilogy is without a doubt one of the creepiest and most thought-provoking works of sci-fi horror, of any medium, that I've ever experienced.

The first novel in the trilogy, ANNIHILATION, is brimming with original ideas - enough arcane symbolism, mind-melting sci-fi concepts and skin-crawling horror imagery to fuel any number of stories. The book builds tension on a slow fuse, crawling inexorably towards a conclusion that feels as profound as it is terrifying, reading like a cross between 2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY and H.P. Lovecraft's worst nightmares.

Alex Garland, whose work on 28 DAYS LATER, SUNSHINE, DREDD and EX MACHINA has earned him the well-deserved moniker of "SF auteur to watch", is a filmmaker perfectly suited to adapt VanderMeer's novel. I knew from the moment this project was announced that we were in for something special, and this week's long awaited teaser is a stunner. February can't come soon enough. 

Surrender yourself to Area-X. Screenshots provided, as well as a bonus look at the trilogy's excellent graphic design and illustration across several different publications.

Sunday, 17 September 2017


I caught THE ENDLESS at SUFF yesterday, and it gives me great pleasure to report that those indie mavericks Justin Benson and Aaron Moorhead have done it again. Following hot on the heels of RESOLUTION and SPRING, the boys are now three-for-three. The screening began with one of their signature personalised video intros, and I have to say that as well as being some of the most exciting genre filmmakers on the scene, these guys are pretty charming too.

THE ENDLESS opens by introducing us to Justin and Aaron (played by the directors, reprising characters seen in a brief cameo in 2012's RESOLUTION), two brothers who are eking out a meagre living in Los Angeles, ten years after escaping together from a rural death cult. The arrival of a mysterious video tape reveals that the mass-suicide they thought they were escaping never happened, and that the idyllic lifestyle in the cult's camp has continued on without them. Aaron, depressed and dissatisfied with his post-cult existence, finds himself pining for the good old days of his childhood in Camp Arcadia, much to the annoyance of his older, more cynical brother. He wants to revisit the camp, to find some kind of closure, and despite Justin's protests, the trip is starting to look inevitable.

Far more of an overt sequel to RESOLUTION than I was expecting, THE ENDLESS expands on that film's examination of the closed-loop, eternally repeating nature of storytelling (from cave paintings to digital media) and ramps it up to 11. As a fan of RESOLUTION, it's very satisfying to see all the links to that film play out here, as a succession of returning characters, themes and locations. However, where the first film had a visually minimalist approach (due largely to budgetary limitations), this quasi-sequel is bursting at the seams with vividly realised imagery that is arcane, eldritch and often horrifying. It's truly breathtaking to behold, and will make your head spin. THE ENDLESS is certainly one of the most successful visual representations of Lovecraft's "unknowable" universe that has ever been put to film. And as with their last film, SPRING, the fx here are for the most part very impressive on such a low budget.

As to what all this esoteric weirdness means, my interpretation is that the Three-Act structure of cinema, and storytelling in general, is a mirror for our dust to dust existence. As with stories, our lives can be seen as a closed loop (beginning, middle and end), endlessly repeating, the same cradle to grave cycle, told again and again, down the long aeons of evolution. You can quit your little loop if you want (suicide), but it won't stop the inexorable repetition of all the virtually identical lives that will follow yours.

Honestly though, I walked out of yesterday's screening feeling pretty bewildered. I rewatched RESOLUTION last week, after which I felt like I had a better grasp of its serpentine concepts than before, but a lot of that went out the window yesterday. And I'm fine with that. As I surrendered myself to THE ENDLESS' deep dive, it felt like the foundation of understanding that I took into the theatre with me was shifting and being eroded beneath me, an unsettling feeling that I think may be a big part of Benson and Moorhead's intent. To give the viewer a dizzying sense of vertigo as they peer into a Lovecraftian abyss of the unknowable, indescribable and truly alien.

Saturday, 16 September 2017

Harry Dean Stanton

Farewell to a great character actor, and another member of the Nostromo's crew. The title of the post below this is a quote from Brett, the character he portrayed in ALIEN, and today Harry Dean Stanton is gone. With 200 acting credits to his name, he worked with the likes of Carpenter, Scorsese, Coppola, Lynch, Wenders, and many, many more. He was one of a kind. Goodbye Mr. Stanton.