For a review of “Blade Runner 2049,”
Filmmaker Denis Villeneuve has taken on the herculean task of directing the sequel to Ridley Scott’s 1982 sci- fi classic “Blade Runner,” a feat that seems nearly impossible to pull off, considering the reverence with which fans hold the original, one of the most unique and influential pieces of sci- fi cinema. Villeneuve’s film, “Blade Runner 2049,” is a remarkable achievement, a film that feels distinctly auteurist, yet also cut from the very same cloth as Scott’s film.
This epic riff on the styles, themes and characters of “Blade Runner” expand the scope and story of this world. Written by original screenwriter Hampton Fancher and Michael Green, “2049” is a meditative and moving film, sumptuously photographed by legendary cinematographer Roger Deakins in the finest and most astonishing work of his career. He paints with light and shadow, creating a wonderfully tactile sense of space and texture, using a palette of slate, cerulean and marigold. The aesthetic is subdued, yet thrilling. The score by Benjamin Wallfisch and Hans Zimmer, sounding like rumbling engines and blaring sirens, simultaneously lulls and agitates.
To belabor story details is to miss the bigger picture of “Blade Runner 2049.” The style is rich, the themes are complex, but the story is a simple, classically cinematic tale. A man is faced with an existential quandary through which he reckons with his own soul and identity in the face of incredible dehumanization.
As LAPD officer K, searching out illegal replicants, Ryan Gosling is perfectly cast as a successor to Deckard ( Harrison Ford). His nonchalance reflects the emotionally remote environment, the uneasy, distrustful daily existence in this dystopian, isolated future. He is riveting when K’s spirit tries to break through the studiously placid surface. Sylvia Hoeks stuns as Luv, a character who seems to be a reference to Sean Young’s Rachael, just a whole lot tougher.
This is a dark future that feels all too plausible. Nothing is sleek and shiny, but worn and faded. K wears comfortable knits under his avant- garde top coat. He conducts his detective work the old- fashioned way, through card catalogs and micro- film — a blackout wiped out digital records, so this modernist world has become analog again. It’s just different enough, but the drone warfare, dumpster bandits, child labor, and sex robots are all simply extensions of things that already exist.
“2049” is a wondrous spectacle, imbued with haunting questions about humanity. But it is flawed, as epics tend to be. At a beefy 2- hour, 43- minute run time, the film loses grip on its tight control of the storytelling in the third hour, and flails before finding an appropriate ending. And while K’s intimate connections with others reflect the existence of his soul, one can’t help but feel that the perspective on sex in the film is deeply rooted in uninterrogated male fantasy, despite the presence of fascinating female characters.
The conceit of both films is the Turing Test— human or machine? The conceal and reveal exposes both the soul of machines and the coldness of a humanity that forces subordinate beings into slavery in the service of capitalism. But is a machine sentient? What denotes personal bodily autonomy? What value can be found in the liminal space between human and machine? “Blade Runner 2049” poses those questions, raised 35 years ago, with a piercing, urgent sense of intelligence and intimacy.
“Blade Runner 2049,” a Warner Bros. Pictures release, is rated R for violence, some sexuality, nudity and language. Running time: 163 minutes. ½
“The Mountain Between Us”
Survival romance “The Mountain Between Us” seems straightforward enough— a couple of strangers are bonded forever when they endure a harrowing ordeal after their charter plane crashes on a mountain in Utah. It’s “Alive,” without the cannibalism, and a lot more romance. But as the film progresses, it becomes clear that the romantic fantasy tendencies hijack this otherwise interesting unconventional love story in order to become a sort of bizarre Idris Elba fan fiction. This theme has been completely underscored by the marketing of the film aswell.
Certified hunk Elba plays a character who’s just too good to be true. He’s a doctor, he wears fine, expensive outerwear, and he listens to classical music on his headphones.
Why does he need to rush back to New York? Because he has to do emergency brain surgery on a child, of course. One would imagine that the source material for the screenplay was a pulpy romance novel. It is, in fact, adapted from a novel, by Charles Martin ( though the cover doesn’t appear to feature any shirtless doctors), adapted for the screen by Chris Weitz and J. Miles Goodloe. The film is directed by Dutch- Palestinian filmmaker Hany Abu- Assad.
Elba’s character Ben, encounters another traveler, Alex ( Kate Winslet), while they’re stranded in an airport, a chance meeting that changes their lives forever. She’s a photojournalist rushing to get home to New York for her wedding, and suggests a private charter plane to this stranger she realizes is in the same predicament.
All too soon they’re fighting for their lives on a snowcapped mountaintop in December, after their pilot ( Beau Bridges) suffers a stroke while flying. During this ordeal, they become inextricably bonded, learning a great deal about each other, and themselves. If Ben is the brains of the operation, Alex is the heart— he’s systemic and risk- averse, she’s emotional and reckless. Sounds about right for their genders and professions.
What saves “The Mountain Between Us” from pulp are the performances of Winslet and Elba. Winslet has always been a wonderfully grounded actor, and she’s at ease here, despite the extreme circumstances. Elba gets to flex a different muscle as the romantic leading man. His casting is a spot- on choice, and the two share a heartfelt chemistry as two people who genuinely learn to like each other, as much as they might love or hate each other at times.
So why does this horrific situation feel so much like fantasy? Because almost every step along the way is another chance for Ben to heroically care for and nurture Alex, to always run back for her, to pull her out of frozen lakes and spoon soup into her mouth. Hampered with a leg injury, the plucky Alex gets to be the damsel in distress, always saved from certain death by her traveling companion. Despite some of their injuries, this ordeal is made to seem downright glamorous and sexy.
While Abu- Assad captures the mountain landscape beautifully, it’s all presented through rose- colored glasses that make it somehow hard to take seriously. The film shies away from many of the harsh realities to focus on their interpersonal connection, and perhaps that’s what makes the stakes fade away and the authenticity seem an afterthought. “The Mountain Between Us” falls flat, struggling to truly enthral beyond a basic love story.
“The Mountain Between Us,” a Twentieth Century Fox release is rated PG- 13 for a scene of sexuality, peril, injury images and brief strong language. Running time: 110 minutes.
Kate Winslet, left, and Idris Elba star in “The Mountain Between Us.”