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Review: Blade Runner 2049

Throughout his directing career, Denis Villeneuve has proved that regardless of budget or genre, he can create a great piece of cinema. Blade Runner 2049 is Villeneuve’s second foray into existential science fiction, a sequel to Ridley Scott’s timeless 1982 classic, and it is truly staggering in scale.

There is a distinct step away from the original in terms of style but he continues to build upon both the world and themes that Scott developed. Similarities can be seen between the two, for instance both involve an unfathomably powerful corporation who manufacture replicants; androids who are superior to humans in almost every way, except for their lack of empathetic abilities.

In 2049, the original corporation has been bought out by another, helmed by an extraordinary looking but ironically blind Jared Leto. In preparation for the role he partially blinded himself and because of that he won’t be disappointed at how few scenes in which he appears. His intentions are sinister however most of the work beyond brooding is done by his assistant Luv (Sylvia Hoeks).

The plot centres around Ryan Gosling’s K, a replicant Blade Runner tasked, like Harrison Ford before him, to hunt down other replicants living illegally. After each ‘retiring’ of a replicant, K must endure the Voight-Kampff test, a bizarre psychological assessment to determine if his human to android balance is still correct after a traumatic experience. The sterile, emotionless nature of his employment is a product of the bleak, dystopian world he lives in. At home he is greeted by his girlfriend Joi, played by Ana De Armas, who is sumptuously attractive, albeit holographically.

A sad product of technological advancement, the waifu of today’s culture has long since been replaced by an A.I girlfriend so complex that it makes that of Spike Jonze’s Her look cheap and tacky. The main downside to a holographic significant other is the impossibility of physical intimacy. To overcome this, Joi arranges for a prostitute to come to the minuscule flat they both live and, in perhaps the strangest thing I have ever seen, have sex with K whilst she layers her holographic body over that of the prostitute, their two separate bodies flickering over one another. Even in love he can’t find a human touch.

This idea of humanity is explored throughout the film, most poignantly so towards the end. K pauses outside a building and extends his arm, snowflakes gently land upon it before quickly melting. Inside that building is a female character (Carla Juri), whose compromised immune system traps her in a large, sterile bubble where she is forced to invent her own reality. We watch as she too extends her arm, holographic snowflakes gently landing upon it before glitching out of existence. Both feel empty in their inability to experience life in its purest form.

Roger Deakins, regarded by many as the pre-eminent cinematographer of our time, nominee of thirteen Academy Awards, winner of none, will undoubtedly receive his fourteenth for his incredible work here. Few would deny his work should have earned him at least one golden statuette and this I feel, although I hesitate to make such bold predictions, should be his year. The 2049 version of Los Angeles was horrifically miserable, truly deserving of the dystopian name and when K travels to Las Vegas, he encounters a world so different yet somehow still dystopian.

That wretched, angular world which Deakins created is complemented beautifully by Hans Zimmer’s score, although beautiful is not an attribute you would easily assign. It’s harsh, disjointed and unmelodic, and unless you sat through to the end credits there would be no indication that it was indeed composed by Zimmer.

Next on the agenda for Villeneuve is Frank Herbert’s science fiction epic Dune. There have been several attempts of a big screen adaptation and all have failed. David Lynch’s version was deemed sacrilege to fans, Alejandro Jodorowsky’s version, had it received funding, would have certainly changed cinema forever, with Pink Floyd, Salvador Dali, Orson Welles, Mick Jagger and many more attached.

The seed of that film, denied the water to sprout, was so significant as simply a seed that it influenced fantasy films of the future like Ridley Scott’s Alien. Interestingly, Ridley Scott was attached to Dune for seven months before the death of his brother Frank made it too tough to continue. Now, just as he took over the reigns on Blade Runner, Villeneuve will take over the reigns on Dune, and I for one am sure we are in very capable hands.

In Conversation with Kevin Everson

Kevin Jerome Everson, fresh from a mid-career retrospective at London’s TATE Modern, travelled up to HOME to screen a selection of his short films with producer Madeleine Molyneaux. Viewers were treated to multiple UK premieres as well as a Q&A, hosted by HOME’s Artistic Director Sarah Perks.

Born in Ohio and based at the University of Virginia, Everson is an award-winning artist and filmmaker and is regarded as one of the most important and creative filmmakers currently working in the USA. Despite this though he remains humble, ‘I’m just from a small town, I just make things and I’m fascinated by people who want to see what I do.’

Art as an opportunity only caught his attention at college. There he studied photography, printmaking and sculptures, before that he was ‘just a big dumb jock’. Since then his films have screened at festivals such as Sundance and Toronto International Film Festival and are praised for their unique style, combining scripted and documentary elements with an obvious formalistic approach. The focus is almost entirely on the African-American experience within the working class whilst abstaining from any generic socio-politcal commentaries.

The 1996 Guggenheim Fellowship winner exhibits a strong sense of labour in his work, ‘I’m very privileged to be an artist, so I try to find artistry in the everyday lives of workers.’ One film in particular, Company Line (2009), centres around a group of city employees battling the snowy conditions to grit the streets.

‘I make films for the subject matter not the viewer, so I’m conscious about how they look and what they say. I find the people who are the best at what they do, and capture them doing it.’ A large section of Company Line is riding along with a particular snowplough driver, watching him at work. There are deeper remarks about 20th century African-American migration to the northern US present here too, depicting a class seldom mentioned let alone seen on film.

The town shown, Mansfield, Ohio, is Everson’s home town and the film was used as part of a trilogy about the first three black neighbourhoods in America. In the early 1970’s the land they lived on was purchased and all the residents in that neighbourhood were scattered all around.

There are more unusual films in his catalogue too. For example Rough and Unequal is a 16mm project where he used a telescope to capture the moon and stars. Commissioned specifically for an exhibition at the Franklin Museum of Art, it was designed to have an effect on the art space as a whole, changing the audiences perceptions of all the pieces on display throughout its runtime.

More recently his 2017 work Brown and Clear that was shown at TIFF divided audiences. It takes place in a bar and shows a man filling up empty bottles with alcohol for the whole 7 minutes and 40 second runtime. Naturally this would immediately turn off a subset of viewers but the variety of techniques utilised make this an intriguing watch.

The story behind the film is similarly intriguing. Everson was visiting a relative and came to the pub he ran. Instantly he was looking at his surroundings for potential subjects. He noted that ‘it was all of questionable legality’. After going back home he decided to drive the eight hours back to film the relative at work.

Medium to close shots are intentional to mask the location and identity to avoid any police trouble. There are numerous interpretations to the underlying meaning of Brown and Clear, one member of the audience suggested that it ‘was a comment on alcoholism’. Everson himself agreed with this adding ‘where I’m from you didn’t get all the fancy alcohol choices you guys have, it was either brown, like bourbon or brandy, or white, like vodka or moonshine.’

Working with a colleague at the University of Virginia, he also makes period films about the history of African-Americans. ‘When we show them in front of the school where there are people of European descent they get upset but they’re not in it. Whether it’s positive or negative they want to be at the centre of it’

Although his art is focussed on the African-American experience, it is unavoidable that it would be primarily shown to white audiences, whether that be at a film festival or a gallery. The main objective though is to spark discussion about the social, political and economic condition present. ‘I never know what people will think when they watch my films but I just try to be consistent. If not then fuck it, i’ll just film more tomorrow.’

Review: Detroit

Frantic, frenzied and fraught with racial tension, Detroit is Bigalow at her very best. For 143 minutes unrelenting waves of impassioned violence will leave you breathless. The Cinéma Vérité style throws us headfirst into the chaos, as if to witness the brutality of the 1967 race riots with our own eyes. Whether you agree that this was Bigalow’s story to tell or not, it is undoubtably one of the most important films of the year.

Detroit opens with a collection of acclaimed African-American artist Jacob Lawrence’s work brought to life, giving vital socio-historical context to the audience. Following the conclusion of WW1 an estimated 6 million black Americans migrated from the rural South to the urban North-East under the false promise of employment. Poverty, ghettoisation of black neighbourhoods and the blatant racism they were subject to were all factors in the combustible tension, the only thing missing was the spark to ignite conflict and incite change.

That spark came on July 23rd, 1967. Detroit police raided an unlicensed club hosting a party for two returning Vietnam veterans causing outrage among the locals. Stones and bottles were thrown at the officer’s cars as they pull away from the scene and a few, fuelled by anger, break into and rob a convenience store. The next 5 days saw over 7200 people arrested, 1,189 people injured and 43 dead, the third most deadly riot the United States has ever seen. Bigalow uses the same dynamic shooting style as her previous films The Hurtlocker and Zero Dark Thirty to capture the mayhem and the result is a visceral and harrowing cinematic experience.

With the scene set the focus narrows to an incident at the Algiers Motel, a safe haven for those looking to escape the violence. The National Guard mistake a starter pistol fire for a sniper and raid the motel alongside Detroit Police. Everyone inside the building is lined up facing the wall and three police officers (Will Poulter, Ben O’Toole and Jack Reynor) begin a brutal interrogation. By the end of the night three black men have been gunned down and the remaining suspects have all been harshly beaten, among them are two white girls, Motown singer Larry (Algee Smith) and Vietnam veteran Greene (Anthony Mackie).

The depiction of what is essentially torture is in turn torturous to watch. It was sickening to see the callous and bloodthirsty treatment of innocent people by the police. Will Poulter’s performance as the ringleader Krauss was haunting, casting perfection of an actor who continues to prove himself in leading roles. John Boyega similarly impressed with his portrayal of Melvin Dismukes, a security guard who entered the motel to help arrest the ‘sniper’ but was powerless to stop the monstrosities he witnessed, as we the viewer were. I think the camera lingered 15 minutes too long here. The intent is clear but after the message is made and ingrained through violent imagery the narrative should have pushed on.

The conclusion to Detroit offers no comfort or closure to the audience. Important social issues such as racism deserve to be tackled in film and Bigalow deserves praise for doing so. She shines a light on this story matter-of-factly, not holding back the key details that carry the most emotional weight. 50 years on it is disheartening to see how little we have come, Ferguson (2014), the death of Eric Garner in New York (2014) and of Freddie Gray in Baltimore (2015) are just three of countless incidents demonstrating the same intrinsic racism.

There has been substantial criticism surrounding the race of both Bigalow and screenwriter Mark Boal. Angelica Jade Bastien (rogerebert.com) says ‘watching Detroit I realised that I’m not interested in white perceptions of black pain’, continuing to state that the film is not ‘authentic’ as a result. Such comments are simply ludicrous and there is a certain irony in racist attacks of a film that attacks racism. If the purpose of art is to inspire critical thought and agitate change could the ethnicity of the creator undermine the necessity of the discussion? Absolutely not.

Manchester Film Festival 2017: Josephine Doe Q&A

Following the UK premier of Josephine Doe, there was a chance for the audience to pick the brains of some of those involved with the production of the film. The writer/lead actress Erin Cipolletti, the cinematographer Brad Porter and the director Ryan Michael were all visibly passionate about their film, and eager to give insight into the behind-the-scenes aspects of the film.

Why the choice of black and white? This is a very interesting decision, one that I feel sets the film apart from the norm. The answer lies in how I imagined the film. When I read the script initially, I imagined it in black and white. Claire’s life was not normal, she couldn’t tell what was real and what was not. Black and white was the right choice as it really emphasises the grey areas in her reality.

How long did it take to film? The production period was just 12 days, but ‘the time was made up for in post’ which lasted for over one and half years. A major problem which led to this is that Emma Griffin who played Josephine lived in Australia. When the post-production period started and things needed changing it became difficult to reshoot or rerecord as it required Emma to travel. To overcome this we waited until there was a large amount of required reshoots before flying her out.

Did much change from writing to the end of the post-production period? Many aspects of the film did change, mainly due to production issues. In the end though the complications ended up creating a better film than we started out making. Something that was very important to us was that the tone should remain the same. If the tone changed then it would no longer be the same film. The scenes, the words, the people could change but the tone was the backbone.

How was the experience of being both the writer and the lead actress? Was It empowering? This is a very interesting question that brings up both personal and business points. Some of the crew had issues separating me from my independent roles, often coming for scripting problems when I was assuming the role of lead actress. This was only a minor issue as the experience was wonderful overall. The role allowed me to easily alter the script on the fly allowing the filming process to be more fluid.

Was Erin’s character ultimately meant to evolve into her mother? That was one of the questions that we were intent on evoking. In particular involving fear. The fear that Claire had that she would become her, especially after she saw how she was in the mental facility. The fear Angie had that she would lose another member of her family to mental health issues but also the fear the genetic aspect of her families mental health issues would ultimately affect her daughter. This was emphasised by the choosing of a child actress to play Lily who had physical features more closely resembling Claire than Angie.

Who was the Inspiration for Josephine Doe? There was not one simple answer for this. More a confluence of lots of ideas that came together to form her. Firstly it’s the sister she never had. Who laughed, loved and cared for her. It was also meant to embody the childhood she never had. Due to her mother suffering from mental issues whilst she was very young she lost her innocence, the ability to just be a child. Lastly it is a version of her without fear, to be who she desires to be.

This Q&A was but another example of the wonderful events at this year’s festival. All those involved with Josephine Doe were happy to discuss their film after the showing and seemed eager to hear the audience’s opinions.

Click here for the Josephine Doe review