No one’s going to debate that Blade Runner 2049 isn’t beautiful. I mean it’s gorgeous: cinematography, locations, production design, wardrobe, etc. Amazing to look at, could be watched on silent, and so forth. Great acting, too, and some really brilliant sound design.
Some SPOILERS here.
You ever wonder if it’s the situation in which you watched a film or the film itself? Small theater, kind of tired, sitting next to two pretty annoying talkers, a little hungry, high expectations (always a mistake). We’ll see how this film feels on a second view.
The thing is, I liked Blade Runner 2049. Alongside all of the aforementioned, it’s also gorgeously paced. I like slow burn, and this thing slowly burns. There are also great set pieces. The Elvis hologram sequence? Possibly my favorite in the film. The opening scene? Tense slow boil.
It’s not that the love scene between Joi (Ana de Armas), K (Ryan Gosling), and Marietta (Mackenzie Davis) felt gratuitous. Similarities to Her notwithstanding, it was really interestingly staged and executed. It’s more that it felt, like a lot of the film, a bit hollow. Instead of this wonderfully strange moment where K finally feels a bit like a human I just kept thinking about how cool their hands coming together looked, about Marietta’s kind of over-involved plan, and about the fact that Joi seems to see everything except for the convenient fact that Marietta places a tracking device in K’s bag.
What’s up with Niander Wallace (Jared Leto) and Luv (Sylvia Hoeks)? Isn’t the godlike, megalomaniacal, “gently” violent villain such a boring trope? And doesn’t Luv feel so much like nearly any machine/replicant/robot (etc) that we’ve seen in countless films: a violent AI dedicated to her master. These characters just felt so one-note for a world as rich as Blade Runner’s.
I wonder what this film feels like if we get Deckard (Harrison Ford) involved earlier. I liked the scenes between Deckard and K, but felt empty at the end. I guess I can go back to the first film, fill in the blanks between them, and then really feel Deckard’s emotions at that last beat, but I haven’t been with either final character for the last 2+ hours, so for me it just felt like two good actors looking at one-another. I’d rather K have a moment there (does he get one when Joi’s device is smashed? Kind of, but it’s an odd decision not to extend that beat; and then when he sees the Joi advertisement later that moment is all but negated (I like that latter scene, by the way)). I like the beat that K gets when he realizes he’s not human, but while it leads to action (and another fantastic set piece) the emotion just kind of skips by for me. I’m not joking that I’d rather have a film where Deckard comes in at the halfway point, we dispense of Wallace and Luv entirely, and spend the second part of the film just in a buddy-film-two-hander where one person thinks he is the son and they’re just bonding, and the other person is sure he’s looking for his daughter.
The Big Sick
I bet I’ve said this before somewhere on this blog: if a film is funny I sort of automatically like it, all other technique be damned. And The Big Sick is really funny. Great performances (easily the best I’ve ever seen from Ray Romano; he’s so good in this), memorable one-liners, and also something like a compassionate look at different cultures and families. I was really happy when Khadija (Vella Lovell) got a pretty note-perfect scene towards the last third of the film. She felt so real, and it pushed the film firmly back into any reality (and for me, away from potential caricature). I think it’s the best written scene of the film, not only for the really real emotion that comes from it, but also structurally; it re-grounds us at a critical moment.
Michael Showalter’s style is perfect for The Big Sick. I could see a different director pushing the style in a different, distracting direction, but here it just sits in the background and lets the performers and the script work. It’s not not direction, it’s just really strong unobtrusive direction. Kind of true classic Hollywood style for my money.