Tears in rain find peace on snow – Blade Runner 2049 (2017), dir: Denis Villeneuve

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Ah, this opening shot… I absolutely adored this tribute and allegorical connection – revealed only towards the end – to one of the most iconic cinematic scenes of the past century and the epilogue to a monologue that touched the heart of millions.

However, it is crucial to recognise that Blade Runner 2049 doesn’t follow the line of a typical sequel and is not infested with nostalgia to keep fans interested but on the contrary, it is an original and intensely philosophical piece of sci-fi cinema.

The burning question of Blade Runner (1982) remains in 2049, as it has not yet been sufficiently answered outside the films’ universe either. What it means to be human and how can you trace the existence of a being’s soul? Touching upon profound existential and self-defining concerns is one of the film’s greatest strengths, along with the stunning cinematography and the plot secret and mysteries.

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There is a rare atmosphere in the film; it feels distant, neon-infested, visually magnificent, big in scale but also, bizarrely intimate and warm. There is a certain familiarity in its beautiful setting and its city dirt, confusion and social turbulence.

You feel as if there is an infinite peace and quiet where all beings stand still, frozen in time. Simultaneously, you experience constant movement mingled with underlying sounds, as if there is a unanimous pulse in the Blade Runner universe.

The visuals are impressive and measure up to the iconic 1982 original, without replicating its narrative style.  The lens moves slow and lays before us the surface of the cold, grey and torn landscape but also, plants us into a yellow vision of dryness and desertion accompanied by hollow sounds, like the awakening of distant memory.

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The plot twist is a manifestation of the most reliable psychological trick when one needs to fully comprehend another; that is through placing oneself in the shoes of another human (or not) being. It assumes the structure of a Greek tragedy where characters are lied to or by chance, misled. Later, they feel victorious as they approach to the resolution of their personal crisis, only to ironically come to the realisation of the deceitful game luck played on them. The tragedy ends in a cathartic transcendence from ignorance to the truth that is only achieved though painfully difficult decisions. It is an admirable achievement to dramatically transfer the viewer from the safety of one’s “definite” conclusions to the confusion and surprise of having fallen into a glossy trap.

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Jared Leto is the secluded creator Niander Wallace, who philosophises and bears himself around as a semi-god with a firm and austere voice. His intonation signals urgency, his eyes are unforgettable and he only emerges under an eerie, wavy light.

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Sylvia Hoeks stands out in the role of Luv, with her penetrating eyes projecting cruelty and simultaneously, immense pain for the slavery of her kind. She is powerful and focused, and attributes an emotional depth to the character that thankfully, is designed to have multiple layers, unlike a simplistic villainous caricature.

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Harrison Ford gives a heart-breaking and dynamic performance as he delivers some of the most emotional and memorable scenes of the film. His figure is oozing unconfessed pain and unhealed traumas whose were sculpted by loss and sacrifice. And that dog… how were they able to find this gorgeous animal to match so perfectly the wretchedness of his companion?!

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Ryan Gosling has the stature and intense energy of the soldier whose life rules are suddenly challenged. There is an economy of words with this actor that is always an incredible gift to the audience, as this invites us to be more attentive to the little movements, the fixing of his eyes, the pauses, etc. All in all, to all the elements that make the performance so unique and entirely his own. Also, the vulnerability that lies under his tough-looking personas elevates them to iconic and contributes to their credibility.

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It is impressive how Denis Villeneuve made a film of such a large scale without compromising its artistic value. He maintained the balance between staggering visuals, worthy of a block buster and the exploration of heartfelt issues by delving deep into existentialist ethics and meaning. Blade Runner 2049 is an atmospheric cinematic piece that overly stimulates the viewer; personally, I left the theatre overwhelmed by the impeccable visuals, the imposing and nostalgic score, and the piercing performances.

The scenes in the hotel in particular, are masterfully directed; the setting is so original and vintage at the same time. In the same way, the film is an amalgam of past memories, present concerns and philosophical queries, and future achievements and possible punishments.

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After the film you might stay put for a re-watch, listen to the score of the 1982 film, drink scotch while contemplating about the origins and the meaning of your soul, or even whether you’d be better off without one, you might ask yourself whether you’d ever leave the world behind to be left alone and enjoy the company of a drunk dog and projections of your favourite artists, or whether you’d be brave enough to join a revolution and finally, you might be entirely stricken by Deckard’s words, “Sometimes when you love someone, means to be a stranger”.

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Kill them, baby, one more time; Alien: Covenant (2017), dir: Ridley Scott

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Prepare yourselves to repeat the ritual of alien penetration in the fellowship of the space exploration or as is the case in Covenant, colonisation. You’ve surely being here before, even if you’ve only watched the first film of the Alien trilogy but that doesn’t mean you will leave the theatre unsatisfied.

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The film deals with the origins of creation and the creator-creation relationship parallel to raw and cruel scenes against humanity in an adventure where the stronger prevails. The Covenant consists the bridge between the end of Prometheus and the events in the original Alien, by diving into the origins of the alien blood-thirsty beasts that first appeared in theatres in 1979.  Good flow of scenes that are smoothly connected and executed with great performances and excellent directing from Scott who is a masterful expert on the sci-fi genre.

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In Covenant, Scott is using the cult cinematic myth of the Alien with no desire to innovate and invent. The film feeds upon the nostalgic feeling of the genuine scares of the original movie without adding something new or remarkable to the classic story. A smarter approach to the scenario would have saved me the disappointment provoked by certain scenes; such as the one where the Captain willingly looks into an opening Xenomorph’s egg when treacherous David  – who minutes before has flipped out when the Captain shot a Xenomorph that had just beheaded a member of the crew – suggests so, or the ending scene that shockingly reveals something we saw coming, if not since the beginning of the film, then by the moment David and Walter are left alone to fight and only one makes it back…

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However, it was a great choice to locate the story on a macabre-looking place, a planet with great vegetation that hides the city of the dead in its core. Aren’t these the perfect surroundings to prepare you for doom?!  And so the rain falls non-stop and the creatures wandering around seem to have made killing and impregnating our misfortunate travelers their life mission.

My favourite bits of the film are its real stars: the Xenomorphs. Similarly to their 1979 predecessors, the monsters in Covenant are more faithful to Giger’s original art and as elegant as the angels of death are a horrifying spectacle indeed. Although, Scott patiently prepares the viewer by slowly setting the atmosphere of terror for the time that the crew will fight for their lives in blood and naivety, the overall predictability of the structure fails this build-up. In an interview, Scott mentions that his goal is giving us time to identify with the characters and care for them but in the 45 minutes (almost the ½ of the film as it last 122 minutes) before the deathly action begins, I felt boredom instead of sympathy…

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However, it was only when Xenomorphs made their appearance that my stomach got tight and one thought governed my mind; had I been them, I wouldn’t last a minute! Oh wait… neither did they!

The choreographed attack by Xenomorphs in a field of tall grass in the first half and the visceral hunting that follows and sees blood and gore gush from every pore of the film are thrilling. Our very first scene of a Neomorph bursting out of a human and the subsequent panicking and killing is gripping and utterly transporting. I particularly loved the scene where David approaches the Xenomorph in an attempt to communicate and gain the creature’s respect.

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Xenomorphs have an elegant shape and a relentless appetite for screams, blood and human flesh, which makes their presence a menace of disproportionate dimensions for the poor, fragile humans. The fact that the opponents are so unfairly unequal made me loose interest when almost all heads dropped down and it was only Daniel’s character that reassured me for the upcoming – and single in the entire film – victory in the final battle. Katherine Waterston is a force of nature and an artful actress that takes you with her in her emotional pain at first, and then in her stubbornness for survival and escape.

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Michael Fassbender’s dual performance is the perk and the differentiating element of the Covenant compared to the other Alien movies.  He acts against himself and delivers an interesting performance. A good example is the scene where an ecstatic David attempts to prove his point to his look-alike Walter and manages to set scenery charged with homoerotic energy and ample narcissism that is actually – and I hope intentionally – rather funny.

The film failed to immerse me into the existential and religious Odyssey supposedly experienced by the characters. David despises his maker and the entire humanity in fact, considering them a weak and rightly dying bread. He resists to a servant’s life that was destined for him and thanks to his appointed talents and abilities David manages to do plenty of harm. David is technically and emotionally more evolved than Walter but suffers from a delusional fever of creation obsessiveness and a severe God complex. Although, he is not a relatable character he is admittedly the most interesting one.

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After the film you might wonder if you’d ever consider taking part in a space colonisation mission, think of the way you’d like to be killed by a Xenomorph (probably the least painful or the most eccentric..), pick which one you’d like best: being a human or an android, start appreciating the flute, never take a shower listening to loud music again and think how cool it would be to have a look-alike to take your place whenever you fancy!

Tunes, feelings and colours; Guardians of the Galaxy Vol.2 (2017), dir: James Gunn

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One thing’s for sure; James Gunn knows how to capture our fantasy and engage us with laughs and effortless cuteness right from the opening credits. Baby Groot’s dance number is performed in a CGI celebration of colour, humour and music, and sets you in the right mood for the adventure you’re about to witness.

Guardians of the Galaxy Vol.2 is great fun thanks to the striking visuals, the chemistry among  the  cast and  also, because the action plays on character development by taking advantage of everyone and splitting screen time almost equally. And so the diverse gang that protects the Galaxy returned with Vol.2 to bring a spectacle of robust CGI scenes, a breadth of feelings and clever, well-written dialogues that respect the characters evolution. Needless to say I loved the film because in its plot’s simplicity and predictability, it’s a fun ride to yet another strange and fun Marvel Universe.

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Michael Rooker delivers a memorable performance as the blue-skinned buccaneer Yondu. He is a man of multiple layers and that makes him incredibly relatable and likeable. Yondu’s biggest mistake was to betray the trust of his fellow Ravagers which leaves him exiled by their community and utterly hurt, regretful and tormented. Nothing compares to the effect on the audience when a crude and shielded character unveils his emotions and unspoken truths, by revealing where his heart truly lies and by seeking redemption by all costs.

Mantis (Pom Klementieff), the empathic sole companion/habitat of Ego is fresh, funny, sweat and surprisingly strong. Her flourishing friendship with Drax is heart-warming and amusing. Bradley Cooper does once more great voice work with Rocket, the piece-of-work modified raccoon whose wild nature and bad temper tries the patience of his friends. The scene where Yondu confronts his trouble-making nature and pushes him to admit his vulnerabilities is impactful and memorable.

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The film has weaknesses like any other; every time Chris Pratt, the Star-Lord himself delivers a line on a dramatic tone, I find it funny, I can almost see him smile while yelling at his Ego-maniac father, or blaming Gamora for not being a supportive friend, or freaking out over Rocket’s theft… I simply can’t take him seriously. Although, I understand the rationale behind casting him as Peter Quill, I believe he is a comedy actor who fails drama, as it was recently proved in Passengers (2016). In addition, Guardians Vol.2 doesn’t achieve the laughs of its predecessor, with sarcastic hints and jokes that are dragged for too long and were not that funny to begin with, e.g. the Taserface teasing that had the whole crew bursting in tears of laughter (?), Drax’s share of funny comments (nope…), etc.

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Speaking of striking scenes, I believe the film gives one of the most colourful and heart-breaking funerals in cinema. Baby Groot’s torture and subsequent mission serves laughter upon tears, Yondu’s revenge is diabolically satisfying, Nebula (Karen Gillan) sharing her plans with Kraglin (Sean Gunn) is oddly devastating and funny and finally, Yondu’s ascend to space with Peter in his arms draw the simplicity of love and silence. Also, Groot (Vin Diesel) is the most adorable, one-sentence speaking, constantly teary-eyed wooden baby ever created and I feel constantly manipulated by how this little cute twig makes me feel…

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Guardian’s USP consists of the stunning spectacle of colourful visuals along with incredible 70’s mixed tapes that mark the action and inner dialogues. The film also emphasises the absolute need for respect to diversity and explores the concept of family, by placing friends as surrogates in the absence or incompetence demonstrated by blood-relations.

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After the film you might listen to Fleetwood Mac’s anthology, put on your most colourful outfits, think how cool it would be to be blue, green or purple (or any other skin tone of crazy colours and shapes you can imagine), try to imitate the way Mantis and Yondu talk and finally, think of the “crazy shit” you would built if you were a half-Celestial.