∴ This is the Guy

If you, like me, left Blade Runner 2049 slack-jawed and in awe of its beautiful cinematography, there’re two people you should know about.

The first is the director of photography, also known as the cinematographer. He’s Roger Deakins. His is the eye that directs what the camera sees. He plays in color, shadow, angle, zoom. He creates photography of what the production designer dreams up. He’s painting in your mind.

His credits: Sicario, Skyfall, True Grit, A Serious Man, The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford, No Country For Old Men, Jarhead, A Beautiful Mind, O Brother, Where Art Thou?, The Big Lebowski, and more.

The other, the one who envisioned the stunning scenery so beautifully shot by Roger Deakins, is production designer Dennis Gassner. He’s the idea guy. He’s the one who, given 2049’s scripted scene where Luv calls out aerial bombardment of the trashman army as she has her nails done, has her gaze at the results through virtual reality glasses as she looks up, chin jutting at an angle just so. He envisioned the colors, the setting, the furnishings, the mood conveyed by light dancing yellow and watery upon the walls, floor, actors. He’s the guy setting the scene.

Look at Gassner’s credits. They’re a veritable connect-the-dots of beautifully arranged scenes, which were then well-shot by the cinematographer: Spectre, Into the Woods, Skyfall, Quantum of Solace, The Golden Compass, Jarhead, Big Fish, O Brother, Where Art Thou?, The Truman Show. This is the guy who sees the magic before it happens.

Like what you saw in Blade Runner 2049? Follow Gassner’s and Deakins’ careers.

#BladeRunner2049 #cinematography #productiondesign

∴ Blade Runner 2049

I saw the premier of Denis Villeneuve’s Blade Runner 2049 last night. It was, simply, epic.

Well-directed, well-cast, and possessed of a gifted cinematographer’s art (Roger Deakins; Sicario, Unbroken, Skyfall, True Grit, A Beautiful Mind), this film is a worthy sequel to Ridley Scott’s 1982 Blade Runner. Scott executive-produced here. If you’re a devotee of the earlier film, you’ll likely love Blade Runner 2049.

Methodic pacing allows for exploration of what Deckard and Rachael’s world has become thirty years later, and what has become of them. You could uncritically call it slow, for its pace is intentional. Villeneuve takes his time. His pacing mirrors that of the first Blade Runner over its entire two-hour, 43-minute run time. There’s simply more story here to tell.

Both his Arrival and Sicario were told this way, though with shorter run times.

It’d be a shame to shorten this film – there’s already a bit of a disconnect when a late plot element enters the story – so I suspect there’s a Director’s Cut is looming in our future. 

2049 had me riveted throughout most of it, particularly in the last half-hour. A “cameo” by Sean Young’s Rachael had me leaning in, trying to detect whether it was CGI or cutting room fodder from the first film. Alas, she had green eyes then.


Ever-present menace and misdirection are familiar Villeneuve tropes. In previous work, whether it’s alien spacecraft overhead, or the threat of imminent violence, he keeps the viewer’s mind off balance until the story’s done.

This film’s conclusion fell in that line: unexpected. As my pal Neal remarked when the lights came up after 2049, there’s a lot to digest.

Menace here is helped along by a throbbing soundtrack, my one beef. Where Vangelis’ soundtrack to the original Blade Runner conveyed beauty, wonder, emotion, and danger, Ben Wallfisch and Hans Zimmer’s bass-heavy, grating throb is nothing but danger. There’s no wonder or beauty in 2049 Los Angeles. The soundtrack reflected that, but it was at times simply irritating.

Casting of 2049 is terrific. Ryan Gosling’s deadpan delivery as a cop and a replicant comes without any of Harrison Ford’s weary delivery from the first film. Gosling’s Officer K’s status as a replicant is established right up front; no spoiler there. Who better to retire the faster, stronger old-model replicants than a fast, strong replicant?

This implicitly argues for Deckard’s status as a replicant in the first film. Some of the dialog between him and Gosling can be taken in that way, as well.

Robin Wright stands in for the original police Captain as a hard drinking, stone-faced cop-in-command. There’s a fleeting bit of womanliness to her character during one brief dialog with Gosling’s character, over a bottle of vodka. A flash, and gone. She’s all business, all the time.

Harrison Ford appears in the final third of the film. The only bit of humor in the entire film’s dialog came from him in a throw-away line of wryness, and again it’s but a flash. This is not a pleasant story, nor is humor at home among the gray shades of its cinematography.

Jared Leto’s character Niander Wallace and his lieutenant, Sylvia Hoeks’ Luv exude a creepiness that adds to the overall menace. These two were perfect counterpoints to Gosling and Ford.

An early turn by Dave Bautista as a hunted replicant is another of his surprisingly spot-on roles.


I’m always leery of sequels. They’re most often a disappointing follow-up to a well-loved story. It’s easier to count the sequels that don’t disappoint. This is one of them, enough so that it requires additional viewings to unravel what it has to say.

Highly recommended.

#Blade #Runner #2049 #Ryan #Gosling #Harrison #Ford #Robin #Wright #Sylvia #Hoeks

First Trailer For Annihilation, Based on a Seemingly Unfilmable Novel

Annalee Newitz – Ars Technica:

Somehow, director Alex Garland (Ex Machina) has evoked that same sense of dreamy, horrifying awe in the first trailer for the film, which comes out in February 2018. Natalie Portman plays the biologist, and we see the bizarre features of Area X seething around her as if the entire ecosystem is somehow haunted. Garland is probably the perfect director for this feature. His Ex Machina was a mesmerizing blend of action and philosophy. My suspicion is that this movie will work its way deep under your skin.

Annihilation was an odd scifi read for me, outside my usual enjoyment zone. I have yet to read the remainder of the trilogy.

Still, Natalie Portman and Alex Garland are tough to pass up. I loved his Ex Machina, and I’ve been a fan of Portman’s since The Professional. Annihilation goes on the Scifi Thursday theater list.

#Annihilation #Jeff #VanerMeer #Alex #Garland #Natalie #Portman #Ex #Machina #Southern #Reach #trilogy

∴ Spectre Trailer Re-cut With Moore as Bond, via Daring Fireball

John Gruber posts a short piece and a link to the film trailer for Spectre re-cut with Roger Moore as James Bond. It’s an interesting watch for any Bond fan, so if that’s you, take a look.

I’m undecided about his conclusion, though. Gruber states “Makes me think the franchise could use some Moore-like suaveness when they recast the role post-Craig,” and as a well-known fan of the fictional character he’s welcome to his informed opinion. I lean toward disagreement, however.

The revelation of Craig as Bond wasn’t his blond hair, blue eyes, or his “perfectly-formed arse,” as Vesper Lynde put it. It was his grim, no-nonsense approach to Bond’s true job description: assassin. He’s no spy, not when he’s instantly recognized everywhere, as was Moore’s interpretation.

Craig’s intrigue is his matter-of-factness about his character’s work. I don’t know how suave – a manly-yet-feminine charisma –  fits into that when Bond’s hallmark, going back to Sean Connery, is “bang, you’re dead.” Or to quote Tuco’s law, “When you have to shoot, shoot; don’t talk.” Moore’s Bond had a wee too much cute dialog for me.

I’m likely seeing this through the lens of my preferred spy flick, the quieter, slower, and occasionally uglier type depicted in screenwriting based on le Carré, and The Good Shepherd. Call this my Bond preference, and cheers to Gruber’s take. I think we’d agree that the next choice of actor will be fascinating. Until then, I’m content with my spare, minimalist killer.

#James #Bond #Daniel #Craig #Roger #Moore #Spectre #trailer #recut

∴ An Adieu to Commander Bond

As many news outlets reported this past week, actor Roger Moore has died. A touching anecdote made the rounds, reproduced here.

More recently the NYT published a piece including brief video clips, a one-line review and a link to the full contemporaneous review of each of Moore’s outings as British secret agent James Bond. Please do click through for the videos and full reviews. My thanks to the Times for publishing their walk-through.

My friends know me as an inveterate Bond fan, and some know which Bond(s) I describe as “best.” I tend to be picky about what I like, and I’m often harsh on the parts of otherwise entertaining films that suck. I’m going to excerpt the Times article’s one-liners and drop in a comment or two about each, because it’s been quite a while since I devoted any time to watching a Bond film starring Roger Moore. These quickie reviews and the video clips brought back memories. Some were good.

I should begin by saying that Moore did not play my favorite Bond. Though he portrayed the character with a certain panache, his take on the role pales in comparison to Sean Connery’s dated, yet still bracing action hero or Daniel Craig’s brooding, contemporary killer. I’d put Moore’s Bond one hair below Pierce Brosnan’s first effort. Brosnan was widely anticipated as the next Bond after Moore retired from the role.

Remember Remington Steele? Brosnan’s television contract kept him out of the Bond role through Timothy Dalton’s two outings.

Brosnan’s Bond roles started out well enough with GoldenEye, but went downhill over the next three films. He looked a wee too aged by the time he was done, a fate shared with Moore.

I put Dalton’s Bond a hair above Brosnan’s. Dalton played Bond more in the mold of Daniel Craig’s grim killer, but suffered from a poor set of scripts to work from and a tired director. John Glen was on his fourth and fifth Bond films by then. Dalton’s take on the role was headed in the right direction, though.

George Lazenby took the role in the same direction as Moore: a bemused civil servant, who appeared surprised he’d been set loose with a gun and a paycheck. Refusing a multi-film contract, he was not to be heard from again among well-known film actors.

Of the role I’ll say that spies should not be known, or even suspected, lest they be offed or simply sent packing. Bond is an assassin, no more, no less. His mission is to kill in the name of the Queen. Moore’s Bond was far too well-known wherever he went, and far too public in his actions. Blame the screenwriters for that, though, not Moore. He played it as-written. So Bond films are not spy stories, they’re thrillers, or action films.

Despite all that, many regard Moore’s as their favorite rendition of James Bond. Reading through Moore’s epitaphs it dawned on me why. Though I don’t share their optimism for his portrayal of the character, I understand it now.

Moore’s tongue-in-cheek tone made for an action hero who could also amuse. Compare and contrast to Daniel Craig’s tone in each of his four outings as Bond – Craig knows he’s playing a government-sanctioned killer, and lets you know that he knows it – and it’s easy to see the appeal in Moore’s lighter approach. Most folks aren’t looking for ugly geopolitical truths in their fiction.

I prefer my spy stories more subtle and austere, more grim, more consequential. John le Carré’s George Smiley comes to mind. Edward Wilson, the protagonist of The Good Shepherd, too. I’m looking for intellectual stimulation more than action, and true-to-life characters more than cartoons. That said, I appreciate Moore’s Bond for what it was: an English version of Hollywood fluff.

Finally, a little gratuitous appreciation. Moore, quoted in 2012:

I loved Casino Royale and Daniel Craig. He is a wonderful actor, certainly the best actor to play Bond…


Now to the Times quotes:

Live and Let Die (1973)

Moore’s first outing as James Bond. Enough color and zing, if no house afire.

Nothing sticks in my mind more than self-sub-titling this film Bond v. the Black People. Bond’s antagonist is a crypto-strongman/diplomat known as Mr. Big (Yaphet Kotto), and Big’s entourage, all African-American, are wrapped around a beautiful, innocent-seeming tarot card-reading white woman (Jane Seymour).

Yes, there’s a plot that has not much to do with race, but after Bond’s initial scene riding a cab uptown through Manhattan into Harlem, and the sub-plot of every black character communicating his location to every other, it’s hard not to see the black v. white subtext. The story assumes the racist notion that all black folks know each other, which is one step away from saying, “you all look the same.” This script is racially tone-deaf.

That’s what screams out to me from this film. I couldn’t un-see it once I saw it. Your mileage may vary.

The best part of this film was its theme song over the opening credits, Wings’ Live and Let Die. It’s among my top-three favorite Bond themes. Kotto and Seymour are accomplished actors, and Kotto’s Mr. Big’s assistant Tee Hee (Julius Harris) amusingly fleshes out what’s an otherwise limited role. Watch for them, if nothing else.

The plot itself is forgettable – I’d forgotten it – and devolves into Bond working to ensnare Mr. Big, a heroin smuggler. My first thought about that angle was, ‘they needed a secret agent for that?’, but Mr. Big’s organization did try knocking him off in the opening scenes, so ….

Verdict: meh.

The Man With the Golden Gun (1974)

James Bond in Asia. No powerhouse but O.K.

Christopher Lee is mildly intriguing, if not questionably sedate as Francisco Scaramanga, the world’s greatest assassin, who charges an even one million dollars (say that in Mike Meyers-as-Dr. Evil’s voice) per hit. His next target is James Bond. Same writers and director as Live and Let Die, similar result. Basically, meh. Not even a memorable theme song from this one.

The one memorable character in this film is Hervé Villechaize as Scaramanga’s assistant, butler, and sometime antagonist, Nick Nack. The scene where Scaramanga pursues a simulated Bond through a hall of mirrors as Nick Nack shifts the scenery and verbally antagonizes him is, in retrospect, pretty well done and is re-interpreted in the opening credits for Daniel Craig’s turn as Bond in Skyfall.

The Spy Who Loved Me (1977)

James Bond teams up with Russian agent. Still percolating at this point.

Karl Stromberg’s faux oil tanker is gobbling up US and Soviet nuclear submarines. Bond is dispatched to work with a Soviet agent and figure out what’s going on. The Moore-led plot is becoming well-worn as a standard action thriller, without much thrill.

Richard Kiel makes his debut as the villain “Jaws,” the man with a mouthful of steel teeth. I never liked this character.

Compare and contrast Jaws with Mads Mikkelsen’s villain Le Chiffre, or Le Chiffre’s largely silent, efficient flunky Kratt, or Christoph Waltz’s villain, Blofeld.

Meh, again.

Moonraker (1979)

James Bond goes intergalactic. Very zingy, though not the crest.

Or, Bond in Space. Ugh.

Michael Lonsdale was the standout in this one as the villain Drax, who lives in a castle and steals a space shuttle. Where do you land a space shuttle so that no-one sees? And how do you … oh, never mind.

Jaws makes a return and falls in love with a cute blond woman in pigtails, never to return. I wonder what their kids look like.


For Your Eyes Only (1981)

Moore retains an ageless cool. Not the best of the series by a long shot, but it’s far from the worst.

Bond is dispatched to find the encryption device sunk aboard a British spy ship, and links up with Carole Bouquet’s Bond Girl Melina Havelock as she attempts avenging her parent’s death by the same villain who stole the encoder. The film ends with Bond tossing the device off a cliff as a Soviet general holds him at gunpoint. “That’s detente, comrade; *You* don’t have it, *I* don’t have it.,” he explains. Not bad.

At least I liked one of Moore’s outings.

Octopussy (1983)

Bond adventure No. 13, with fake Fabergé egg and threats of WWIII. Formula still working.

Or, Bond at the Circus.

A nuclear device is set to trigger at a NATO base by circus folk. No standouts. Double-meh.

Thus began the descent of Moore as Bond.

A View to a Kill (1985)

Wicked financier plans to destroy Silicon Valley. Moore’s last Bond, and probably just as well.

Wow, this one was bad, Moore’s least watchable Bond flick. 

The only stand-out was Christopher Walken as Max Zoren, because, Christopher Walken. I wish they’d written more into his one-dimensional character.

Zoren is plotting to do what so many modern right-wing whack jobs would love: detonate explosives along the San Andreas fault, plunging much of non-agricultural California into the sea. Or flooding San Jose’s Silicon Valley. Or something like that, allowing Zoren to corner the market in microchips. From his blimp.

Do not waste your time on this one. Triple-meh.

Moore made an iconic run as the British “spy” James Bond. As has been written elsewhere he was, for better or worse, the Bond of my generation, and his characterization epitomized the times. It’s not often an actor becomes an icon – think Leonard Nimoy as Spock – and even rarer that they embrace that cultural elevation. Moore played his lifetime role well, in that regard. Rest in peace, Commander Bond.

#Roger #Moore #James #Bond

Chris Cornell, Soundgarden and Audioslave Frontman, Dies at 52

Christopher D. Shea and Caryn Ganze – The New York Times:

Chris Cornell, the powerful, dynamic singer whose band Soundgarden was one of the architects of grunge music, has died at 52.

Mr. Cornell died Wednesday night in Detroit, said his representative, Brian Bumbery, in a statement that called the death “sudden and unexpected” and that said the singer’s family would be “working closely with the medical examiner to determine the cause.”

Dontae Freeman, a spokesman for the Detroit Police Department, said in an interview that at about midnight officers responded at the MGM Grand casino to an apparent suicide of a white man, born July 20, 1964, who was pronounced dead on the scene. He would not confirm the victim’s name; Mr. Cornell’s date of birth is July 20, 1964.

Farewell to a talented, driven, flawed man. Among his other music successes, he composed and performed my favorite Bond theme, You Know My Name, for Casino Royale.

#Chris #Cornell #Soundgarden #music #Bond #Casino #Royale #death

Rogue One, Second Time Through

A better Star Wars than, well, any Star Wars. I like this one better than all seven in every way. It’s grittier, with colorful, self-redeeming characters, a more complicated, less hopeful plot until the characters ultimately succeed, and people die. All of them. The story has consequences. It has a sense of being real.

Best of all, it ends. One. And. Done.

#Star #Wars #Rogue #One

An Alternative Take on Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2

Annalee Newitz – Ars Technica:

If there’s anything wrong with this movie or its cast, I’m afraid to say it’s Kurt Russell. I love me some Snake Plissken as much as the next ’80s kid, but Ego feels very one-note. Unlike pretty much every other character in the movie—including the bad guys—he never has any funny lines or zany bits. Of course he’s supposed to be a grandiose egomaniac (duh), but that doesn’t mean his whole part of the film has to be draggy and ponderous. He does a lot of unnecessary infodumping, and even his evil moments feel kind of blah. We get more snap and pizzaz in the brief cameo from David Hasselhoff than we do out of 15 minutes of Ego.

Still, the film overall is both a visual treat and surprisingly thoughtful adventure. It’s about accepting your friends for who they really are and forming family where you find it. Oh and also? It’s about blowing stuff up. Lots and lots of stuff. And exploding. And fire. Yeah, it’s about fire, too.

Annalee’s take is spot-on, though she forgives or simply overlooks the overabundance of dialog in this otherwise fun story. I suspect that’s what you get from a review written by someone whose tone is more fanlike of the material than a critic.

#Guardians #of #the #Galaxy #Vol #2 #Marvel #Cinematic #Universe

∴ ‘Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2’ Is Almost as Great as the Original

(Stress on the headline’s “almost.” Almost almost.)

We went to see Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 last evening. The film’s predecessor, Guardians of the Galaxy, has become cherished comfort viewing for me, so much so that I was chagrined when I heard there’d be a sequel. Leave well enough alone, I thought. Apparently no good fun can be had one-and-done when there’s money to be made, though; there must be sequels. 

The trouble with a sequel to a well-loved film is that the writers, director, and actors often, though not always, end up trying too hard to bring the magic that made the first film terrific. I got that feeling last evening. The Atlantic’s review encapsulates where it fell flat for me:

The Guardians sequel and latest installment in the Marvel Cinematic Universe certainly has its moments—quite a few in fact—but too often it finds itself weighted down by just the kind of portentous themes and overwrought drama the first film was so careful to avoid.

In particular, Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 breaks the “show, don’t tell” rule of good story-telling. There’s a lot of navel-gazing dialog between Peter Quill and his father, Ego, and to a lesser extent between Gamora and her sister, Nebula. In the latter case there were at least a few long, side-eyed glares in place of dialog, enhancing their intense story-wthin-a-story.

The band-of-misfits-as-family we were encouragingly left with at the end of the first film (“we’ll follow your lead”) morphed into Kurt Russell’s long digression into who and what, exactly, he is and what, exactly, he’s been up to for millennia, which was, well, kinda gross. Quill spends much of the second act torn between the Guardians and Ego, to no good effect.

The revelation of Ego as Quill’s father was disappointing for how very early it appeared. I was stunned speechless when, after the first film’s long build-up about Quill’s male parentage, we met Ego in the first five minutes of this film. It was practically the whole reason for the sequel, and it zipped past in the first scene.

My other beef with Vol. 2 is that, unlike its predecessor, it lets almost all the air out of the balloon by its end. There are fewer mysteries left to beg the audience back for more next time. Most inter-personal issues are resolved.

In the wake of this film’s story are the gold-hued people bearing a grudge, and Sylvester Stallone’s Ravager navy getting the band back together. As Kelly said, ”I guess we know what the next film is about.” Let’s hope the golden folks and the Ravagers don’t resolve their issues in the first few minutes of the next film.

All of this is not to say the film was without charm. The CGI didn’t break my suspension of disbelief, the live action was shot in 4k, creating gorgeous visual detail, and the story, when not bogged down in dialog, was fun.

My favorite characters from the first film were good-to-great in this one. Drax was a riot. Nebula’s character developed out of one-dimensionality and, while still fiercely angry, came off vaguely “human.”

Alas, Yondu Udonta does not live through the end of the story, but becomes more interesting through his bonding with Rocket along the way. His knife missile weapon is well-used throughout, and is passed down to his first mate, Kraglin, to mine humor near the film’s end. There’s much to like in this story.

I’ll rent it for another viewing and see if it grows on me like the first one did. I just wish writer/director James Gunn had left 30 – 40 minutes of digital “film” on the virtual cutting room floor.

#Guardians #of #the #Galaxy #Vol #2 #Marvel #Cinematic #Universe