THE HIPPOPOTAMUS

Cert 15 89mins Stars 3

Sex among the upper classes is explored in this comedy drama which mixes a film noir detective story and the novels of Evelyn Waugh with mild successful.

It’s based on a novel by Stephen Fry, and his over bearing smug pomposity weighs down every line of dialogue.

Roger Allam plays a failed poet who wallows in the caustic mud of his own cynicism. His voice over is full of cruel asides and flowery language, which delights in its public schoolboy humour and obsesses over bodily fluids and functions.

The whiskey sodden writer is employed by a glamorous blonde to investigate a miraculous healing which took place at a large country house.

Fry previously directed a big screen adaptation of Waugh’s Vile Bodies, called Bright Young Things. And there as here, he fails to make us care about his herd of posh idiots.

However the jolly jazz era inspired soundtrack help make it surprisingly brisk on its feet.

 

CITY OF TINY LIGHTS

Cert 15 110mins Stars 3

This thoughtful British thriller takes the gloom of 1940’s Hollywood film noir, and illuminates it with the neon dazzle of contemporary London.

The likeable Riz Ahmed brings a streetwise soft spoken charisma to a long awaited and deserved lead role, which carries dominates the film.

As a whisky drinking downbeat private detective called Tommy, he begins a missing persons investigation which escalates into murder.

The fabulous Cush Jumbo plays a prostitute concerned about her colleague. She seems to have more screen time than co-star Billie Piper, who is the more prominent in the advertising. The former star of TV’s Secret Diary of A Call Girl is a good match for the material, though we see less of her than we’d like.

There’s some snappy lines and the script doesn’t shy from the complexities or frictions of the modern metropolis. Regardless of the final scene being too bright, this is a nicely reflective piece of work.

 

 

 

A SIMPLE FAVOUR

Cert 15 117mins Stars 4

Deception is the key ingredient to the success of this breezy and hugely entertaining black comic thriller.

Tasty family secrets are revealed when a wholesome single mom investigates the disappearance of her outrageous best friend.

Anna Kendrick is best known from from the Pitch Perfect series, and knowingly trades on her girl-next-door persona as Stephanie, a paragon of domestic virtue who offers domestic cooking tips on her video blog.

This is in stark contrast to the AWOL power-dressing and martini swilling PR executive, Emily, a role in which Blake Lively is an absolute blast.

And direct from his swoony turn in romcom smash, Crazy Rich Asians, Henry Golding appears as Emily’s husband, who accepts Stephanie’s shoulder to cry on.

It’s confidently directed by Paul ‘Bridesmaids’ Feig who accentuates the sharp and funny dialogue by using French pop tunes and a bold colour scene, and creates a twisted delight which is as dark and delicious as one of Stephanie’s chocolate brownies.

UNDER THE SILVER LAKE

Cert 15 139mins Stars 4

Take a delirious freestyle trip through Los Angeles with Andrew Garfield in this sleazy, sex-driven and violent Hollywood neo-noir mystery.

The former Spider-man is paranoid and far-out as Sam, an unemployed stoner who has five days to pay his rent or be evicted.

Elvis Presley’s granddaughter, Riley Keough, commands our attention as his neighbour, and when Sam obsessively explores her overnight disappearance, he becomes convinced there’s a conspiracy involving a local dog killer and a missing billionaire daredevil stuntman.

With the sun-kissed hues and a blissed-out tone smuggling an outrageous satire on the entertainment industry, there’s an hallucinogenic black comic vibe as pool parties and performance art mix with animated interludes and psychotic nightmares.

Having wowed us in 2014 with his superb horror, It Follows, writer, director and producer, David Robert Mitchell, has created an intoxicating freaked out parody of the self-involved lunacy of L.A., and though definitely an acquired taste, I loved it every messed up mental minute.

 

 

The Absent One

Director: Mikkel Norgaard (2016)

This moody Danish thriller has homelessness, rape, mental illness and murder plus teen drugs and sex.

A shame then the dour tone is a drag on momentum and the plot twists itself into the silliness of a revenge slasher flick.

Nikolaj Kaas and Fares Fares star as obsessive cop Carl and his laid back partner Assad. They’re dismissed in the precinct as the drunk and the Arab.

A suicide lead to them re-examine an old unsoved case of murdered school children.

They find a connection between the boarding school and current corruption in high society.

The split narrative flips between then and now with the flashbacks showing us layers of deceit and abuse, with potentially fatal consequences for the future.

Blade Runner: The Final Cut

Cert 15 117mins Stars 5

Blade Runner: The Final Cut (1982, 2007) 

Ridley ScottBlade Runner: The Final Cut is the definitive version of director Ridley Scott‘s 1982’s sci-fi noir masterpiece.

Uniquely it stands on a pedestal with 1927’s Metropolis, and 1968’s 2001: A Space Odyssey, in the sci-fi canon, and alongside 1944’s Double Indemnity as a doom laden noir.

AndroidsDreamBased on the 1968 novel Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? by Philip K. Dick, Blade Runner is a combination of extraordinary visuals, superlative sound, Blade Runner’s superb cast includes Harrison Ford, Rutger Hauer, Sean Young, Edward James Olmos, M. Emmet Walsh and Daryl Hannah.

With various cuts of the film existing and offering very different endings, Scott trims The Final Cut to its noir roots and in doing so unequivocally resolves a long running debate concerning the nature of the central character, the ‘Blade Runner’, Rick Deckard.

Digitally remastered in 2007 for the 25th anniversary of the original 1982 release, Scott removed Deckard’s voice-over and a happy ending which the studio imposed on the original theatrical release, as well as reinserting a unicorn dream sequence.

Blade Runner scroll

The film takes place in Los Angeles of the year 2019. Six genetically engineered humans called replicants have escaped from an off-world colony and made their way to Earth, where their presence is outlawed.

BR fordIn Los Angeles two replicants are killed after trying to break into the headquarters of the Tyrell Corporation. This prompts M. Emmet Walsh‘s seedy police captain to strong-arm Harrison Ford‘s reluctant former detective, Rick Deckard, back into harness.

Though insisting he is twice as quit as when he walked in, Deckard accepts the order to find the remaining four replicants and destroy them, and an origami-modelling cop called Gaff is assigned to monitor Deckard’s progress.

While on the case Deckard first interviews then starts an affair with Sean Young‘s Rachael. She’s the glamorous niece of the head of the Tyrell Corporation, Dr. Eldon Tyrell, the chess-playing creator of the replicants.

DeckardThe euphemistic use of the word ‘retire’, reminds us Dick’s paranoid fear of the inevitable decay of our mortal bodies, reinforced by Scott scattering his sets with mannequin parts.

The screenplay by Hampton Fancher and David Peoples is a loose adaption of the source novel but is faithful to Dick’s obsessions of decay, transformation, paranoia and identity, and in The Final Cut at least, is respectful of noir’s hard-boiled cynicism.

It can also be read as a twisted riff on John Milton’s epic poem, Paradise Lost, with the replicants representing fallen angels rejecting their godlike creator.

Incorporating tolling bells, the magnificent score by Greek composer Vangelis, announces key themes as the film opens and veers between the apocalyptic and the heavenly.

The Tyrell Corporation’s HQ is a pyramidal mausoleum, a suitable resting place for a god before an ascension to a higher level of existence. The replicants can be interpreted as angels or demons who have descended to Earth from the chaotic off-world to challenge the Earth’s divine order, and possibly raise humanity to a higher plane of existence.

Br sebastian

The subjugated and animal nature of Earthbound humanity is explored through the use of rats, those harbingers of disease, decay and death. Tyrell talks of deserting rats when discussing the altering of the replicant’s DNA. There are pet rats among J.F. Sebastian’s engineered toys. Deckard is herded like a lab rat through the decaying prison of a mansion block.

Filmed in the ironwork interior of LA’s Bradbury building, the dreamlike apartment of genetic engineer J.F. Sebastian is a repository of childhood toys which Deckard must escape before he can be enlightened as to his real identity.

Br BattyThe relationship between the replicants provides the emotional core of the film. Daryl Hannah wraps herself affectionately around Rutger Hauer, who plays her partner and the replicant’s leader, Roy Batty.

And though the a homicidal Batty is set up as the villain, Hauer’s poetic and physical performance aches with life, love and loss. His powerful closing monologue which always bring s me to tears is all the more astonishing for being self-penned.

BRrachaelFor those who think Scott is a stylist indifferent to his actors labours, they should consider the performance he elicits from Sean Young, who is perfectly in tune with the demands of the role.

In a brilliantly tense conclusion we see Rachael asleep in her apartment and Deckard approaching her, gun in hand. We don’t know whether he will kill her or kiss her.

There’s a declaration of love and a big sigh of relief from the audience. But as Deckard and Rachael leave his apartment, they find an origami unicorn left by Gaff. This changes the entire thrust of the story and our understanding of it.

UnicornGaff’s origami is evidence he knows Deckard’s dreams are memory implants, causing Deckard and the audience to belatedly realise he is also a replicant. His entire life is a lie and he has unwittingly killed his own replicant family members at the behest of the police, his enemies, who he realises he now has to escape from.

This bleak revelation is perfect film noir.

But the power of Blade Runner has been diluted by the studio edit prompting a discussion over Deckard’s replicant status. This drags our focus from a brilliant noir ending to a non-debate over the nature of Deckard’s humanity.

Instead of the audience being overwhelmed by the force of this drama, for nearly forty years everyone has chuntered over the ‘is he a replicant’ debate, a controversy this definitive version retires.

Harrison Ford was strategically picked to play Deckard in a casting masterstroke of cinematic deception. The audience is fooled by their own presumption the star is playing a hero.

A huge star from his swashbuckling roles in 1977’s Star Wars, and 1981’s Raiders of the Lost Ark, as Han Solo, and Indiana Jones, the audience expected more of the same. Ford’s status as heroic Hollywood leading man leads us to believe Deckard is the hero until we and Deckard realise he isn’t. We don’t expect a character played by Ford to be the fall guy.

The Big SleepAs a hard drinking detective with a laconic delivery and ready attitude in the face of authority, Ford is presented as a futuristic Humphrey Bogart, rebooted, updated and teleported in from Hollywood’s Golden Age of noir.

Ford is happy to riff on Bogart’s goofy undercover book lover in  1946’s The Big Sleep to emphasise the connection. There’s even a reference to Sydney Greenstreet in Bogart’s classic wartime melodrama, Casablanca as Deckard interrogates a fez-wearing gangster, The Egyptian.

Plus the story is told through Deckard’s eyes. So Deckard’s the hero, right? He’s an updated and rebooted sci-fi Philip Marlowe, right? Wrong.

To watch The Final Cut is to realise, and this is despite what Bryant tells him, Deckard is not especially good at his job.

He’s beaten up in turn by each of the four replicants. While failing to dispatch either of the males, he shoots the unarmed females, and he only manages to kill one of them by shooting her in the back as she’s running away. And as Batty mockingly points out, Deckard is not very sporting. Ordered to retire Rachael, Deckard has sex with her instead.

indemnityFar from being Bogart 2.0, Deckard is far more of an upgrade of Fred MacMurray’s hapless insurance salesman Walter Neff from 1944 noir masterpiece. Double Indemnity. In classic noir fashion, Deckard is too dim to realise he’s always behind the game. it’s not until the end he understands how little he knows. He’s a prize chump.

Blade Runner is rightly celebrated for its superlative sci-fi styling, but I love The Final Cut for revelling in the noir at the heart of this rain-soaked LA story.

@ChrisHunneysett