Tuesday 6 February 2018

Blade Runner 2049, The Cloverfield Paradox, and In Bed With Victoria: Your Week In Film (February 5-11)

Dead space: Daniel Bruhl and co face terrible danger in The Cloverfield Paradox

The best and worst of this week's UK home entertainment releases on DVD, Blu-ray and digital. All the films mentioned are available to buy, rent and/or stream now, unless otherwise stated. 

Ratings guide: WWWW - Wonderful  WWW - Worthwhile  WW - Watchable  W - Woeful

I will draw my final breath arguing that we really didn't need a sequel to Ridley's Scott's 1982 sci-fi classic, but Blade Runner 2049 (DVD, Blu-ray, and VOD) WW½ certainly has its moments, nearly all of them down to the movie's sublime cinematography and stunning visuals. The plot, on the other hand, is clumsy (soapy, almost), its pace sluggish, and I remain unconvinced yet another discourse on "what it means to be human", expressed through the experiences of an AI, robot or android, is entirely necessary. Cinema and other media have given us quite enough of them, thanks.

Set 30 years after the original movie, the assets of the bankrupt Tyrell corporation have been bought up by sinister uber-capitalist Niander Wallace (Jared Leto). He has begun the manufacture of a new batch of replicants to use as slave labour so humanity can continue its expansion off-world. He can't manufacture enough of them though, and needs to find a way for the artificial humans to procreate. Ryan Gosling is K, a replicant Blade Runner charged by the LAPD with "retiring" his own kind, specifically the older, rebellious models from the original film. As luck would have it, K discovers that a replicant child has been born and suspects it might even be him. This knowledge brings K into conflict with Wallace and his ruthless replicant henchwoman Luv (Sylvia Hoeks), leading him from LA out into the nuke-blighted wilderness of Las Vegas to track down the long-missing Deckard (Harrison Ford).

Denis Villeneuve's film takes an age to get going and only really puts its pedal to the metal in the final third, with the arrival of Ford, who is then inauspiciously sidelined as the story races to a violent climax. There's nothing here as iconic or thrilling as Deckard's fight with Roy Batty (Rutger Hauer), although Ford and Gosling's punch-up in Vegas, while glitchy holograms of Elvis and Marilyn Monroe play in the background, comes close. There's a scene in which Deckard confronts a ghost from his past that should have been a classic but is undermined by unconvincing CG (it's like Rogue One's Peter Cushing faux pas all over again). Worse still, Wallace is a dull villain. He does very bad things but is difficult to hate because he's so lacking in character and complexity. The film has been accused of misogyny and, while you can partially excuse that because its set in a dystopia where women are treated poorly, it doesn't excuse one particularly grubby and exploitative scene in which Wallace kills a naked replicant female with a scalpel. Just plain nasty.

What considerably elevates Blade Runner 2049, and makes it worth nearly three hours of your time, is Roger Deakins' cinematography, which is, quite simply, a wonder to behold. There are some visual moments here that fair take the breath away, even on the small screen. Dingy, grungy and gloomy, 2049's LA matches anything you'll see in the original movie, while the orange-hued sequences set in Deckard's Las Vegas bolthole should be enough to win Deakins a first Oscar (after 14 nominations) all on their own.

Cutting edge: Blade Runner 2049 boasts jaw-dropping visuals

You have to admire Netflix's marketing chutzpah. The third Cloverfield movie supposedly titled The God Particle and acquired by the streaming service from Paramount last year has been speculated about for months and then up they pop to announce, during Sunday's Super Bowl, that the film now called The Cloverfield Paradox WW  will be available right after the game. It's a bold and clever strategy that makes the film's release rather more of an event than it would have been under normal circumstances. If the following morning's Cloverfield-related chatter on Twitter and elsewhere was any indication, it certainly did the trick.

The movie itself is an enjoyably hokey slice of sci-fi that channels the likes of Alien, Event Horizon, Another Earth, and Gravity, but is, in reality, probably no more remarkable than a half-decent episode of The Twilight Zone or Outer Limits. There's a bit of body horror, scientific gobbledegook by the pound, the odd splash of dark humour, plus lots of charging about down corridors, nick-of-time equipment repairs, and explosions.

Gugu Mbatha-Raw is Ava Hamilton, the British member of a space mission to test and supposedly perfect a particle accelerator to solve the planet's energy crisis, a process so dangerous it can't take place on Earth. Suffice to say, the attempt goes awry and the crew (which also includes Chris O'Dowd, Daniel Bruhl, and David Oyelowo), as well as their space station, are hurled into another dimension, with disastrous, reality-bending consequences.

Julius Onah's film contains some interesting ideas and genuinely memorable moments ("What are you talking about, Arm?"), and I especially liked the way its events connect to 2008's first and comfortably best Cloverfield movie. Mbatha-Raw (Belle, Miss Sloane) is a terrific young actress and, in truth, deserves meatier roles than this. But the fact a black British woman is playing the lead in a JJ Abrams franchise (a fourth film in the series is promised later in the year) should not just be acknowledged, but celebrated.

Raw deal: British star Gugu gets lost in space in The Cloverfield Paradox

My French Film Festival is still going strong and I'm slowly working my way through the 30 films and shorts on offer. In Bed With Victoria (VOD) WW is a rom-com of sorts about a thirty-something lawyer (Elle's Virginie Efira is the titular character) struggling under the weight of her chaotic life. She has a demanding career, two energetic young daughters to look after, and unfortunate penchants for popping pills and disastrous romantic entanglements. Matters only become more strained when she is asked to defend an old friend on an attempted murder charge, and she takes legal action against her former husband to prevent him from revealing scandalous secrets in a blog. The humour is silly rather than funny, the plot ridiculous and clunky (important courtroom reveals centre on a monkey and a dog). However, Justine Triet's film is saved by Efira, a charismatic and beguiling screen presence, as well as Victoria's slow-building romance with drug-dealer-turned-intern, Samuel (Vincent Lacoste). 

Queen Vic: Virginie Efira is beguiling and charismatic

Film of the week: Blade Runner 2049, but you should also see Beach Rats, which is out on DVD this week. I wrote about it here a few months ago.

What I'll be watching this week: It's time to revisit the late Jonathan Demme's Something Wild, which has just been released in the UK by Criterion.

If you are so inclined, check out my review of Jupiter's Moon at Film Inquiry.

Top 10 UK DVDs/Blu-rays (movies only)
1. Kingsman: The Golden Circle
2. Victoria And Abdul
3. It (2017)
4. Kingsman: The Secret Service/The Golden Circle
5. Dunkirk
6. Fifty Shades Darker
7. La La Land
8. Paddington
9. God's Own Country
10. Sing

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