Sicario 2: Soldado (2018)

sicario-2-soldado-german-movie-poster

After taking a breath and realising what a fantastically dark ride 2015’s ‘Sicario’ was, I never expected a follow up. It didn’t set one up and people weren’t calling for a sequel but here we are; without supremo director Denis Villeneuve and director of photography Roger Deakins. Does that weaken the horrendously titled Day of the Soldado or is there merit to be found?

In light of some bombers reaching American soil, the US Government employs Matt Graver (Josh Brolin) to get dirty and stop the Mexican cartels; who they believe are smuggling terrorists across the border. Matt hires black ops guy Alejandro Gillick (Benicio del Toro) to start a war between the cartel groups.

Three years ago we were presented with this boiling pot of tension and a strained political tug of war, with Emily Blunt thrust into the dangerous landscape. Now with director Stefano Sollima on board and Blunt’s Kate Macer out, the story is a different kettle of fish. What worked for the first film was Taylor Sheridan’s script, we were on side with Kate, not knowing why they needed her and her gradual understanding of the shady tactics being utilised was an interesting narrative arc. This film’s plot isn’t as neatly focused and it becomes a wider exploit on Mexico and the US Government, it’s also an odd feeling to be along for the ride with Matt and Alejandro; who weren’t exactly characters to like or trust the first time around.

In ‘Sicario’ there were indeed bloody moments but these suited Kate’s worrying immersion into a world painted as a grey area. For me I couldn’t get past the idea that a good proportion of ‘Soldado’ was bloodier and violent for the sake of violence, plus the trigger blasting sight of del Toro firing like a maniac took me right of the film because it just looks dumb. The violence generally unnerved me and felt like a visceral jolt but there wasn’t great reason behind it, mirroring the sense of this sequel being made.

On the plus side, I still think this was a good movie. There was more tension coursing through the veins of the drama compared to before, if that’s somehow possible. Hildur Guonadottir’s score picked up on the familiar sounds of the late, great Johann Johannsson and added further swells of palpable unease. A stand out sequence with a dust road convoy is expertly executed and later stages with Gillick and his journey are nicely unexpected.

There’s still a chilling aura on show, thanks to Sheridan’s handle on the returning characters and it’s clearly a film identifiable as part of the gritty, bleak ‘Sicario’ brand, but it’s let down by a looser, disappointing story and perhaps too much brutality. They’re obviously eager for a 3rd film and though I didn’t really want ‘Soldado’, I’m more than happy to see what the trilogy could end like.

6/10

Advertisements

Avengers: Infinity War (2018)

avengers-imax-main-large

Here it is. After 10 years in the making; Marvel’s Cinematic Universe releases this superhero epic which is breathtaking, breezy but it also packs an Infinity Gauntlet sized punch to the feels.

The Avengers are still not on speaking terms, with the aftermath of ‘Civil War’ leaving them on separate sides. The Guardians of the Galaxy are unaware of these Earth mishaps but may soon collide with new faces, as the troubling fact that Thanos is out to collect all 6 Infinity Stones becomes a dangerously possible outcome.

What works so well, is that producer Kevin Feige has masterfully woven a web of comic book heroes that have built and built to this grandiose moment. Feige, with directors from a previous 18 Marvel movies and returning directing duo for this one; the Russo Brothers, have ensured that the characters are fully realised for audiences to have taken them into their hearts. This is what makes ‘Infinity War’ that much more of a slam to the chest in what is definitely the most unexpected narrative to come from the MCU.

Seeing characters who have never shared screen time up until now, is a blistering joy to behold and they sparkle with humour or provide needed poignancy. There’s an undeniable giddiness to be had in finally seeing a huge ensemble come together in their own way and crossing over the space set Guardians crew, with the Earth dwelling Avengers team is a fantastically grin-inducing sight to last for the ages.

I must admit, that at first the plot in the initial 20-40 minutes was sort of a slow burn, even with an opening scene that throws us a dramatic curve-ball. Unlike a fair few of the Marvel outings though, this is a film that gets better and better as it goes along, which means by the end of a 2 and a half hour run-time, I was left with mouth aghast, mind reeling and a buzz shaking all over as now we have to impatiently wait for the follow up next year.

What I loved above all else, was the fact that this film kept going directions I never expected it to. The uncertainty of Earth and the fate of the hero’s was spellbinding and gifted this stonking blockbuster a great grounded touch and a eye widening darkness as Thanos’ terrifying reign escalates. The stakes are 1000% sky-rocketed and it says a lot when the end credits have no loud, colourful graphics, just a plain black screen and white text, keeping on course with the emotional weight, as questions tumble around in your head for what could happen in Part 2.

There are some dodgy uses of CGI that distract from powerful moments, an almost Mark Ruffalo floating head in his suit is just one example. No spoilers, but a well known TV series actor rocks up and their character/scene is unintentionally funny, it feels off and I don’t know why. These are honestly the only weaknesses I can find in a film that serves its fans well and definitely has its best villain yet.

I’d be here a long time if I commented on the infinity list of actors that star in the movie but I have to say things about; Robert Downey Jr who is as effortlessly cock-sure, charming and suave as ever but with a developed sense of fear and protective care as the movie amps up. Tom Holland with a souped up suit slings pop culture references and Spidey mannerisms perfectly and provides a true gut-wrenching emotional moment. Scarlett Johansson is bad-ass as ever and sells the loyal Black Widow stance but is underused as is Sebastian Stan who doesn’t really get a chance to take action. Dave Bautista carries on his Drax mantle of the comedy act, with Chris Pratt sharing mirrored showmanship and arrogance to rival Downey Jr and Chris Hemsworth. The Australian actor’s turn as the God of Thunder is one of his best yet, still strolling on the zany comedy from ‘Ragnarok’ but convincingly fusing anger, revenge and sadness to the character of Thor. Zoe Saldana gets Gamora more fleshed out which is a nice thing and makes you watch how great she is in playing the character. Unarguably the entire feature is devoured by Josh Brolin who’s front and centre, giving Thanos a fearsome voice but it’s his work with motion capture that sees this big baddie come to life, with tricks, evils and gravitas.

I can say with confidence, that ‘Avengers: Infinity War’ will go down in history as a film marvel and it deserves to claim the inevitable box office crown. There’s spectacular action, cracking zingers, continuous uneasiness of expectation being thrown to the wayside and an emotional core that even Dr. Strange couldn’t magic away.

8.5/10

 

Star Wars: The Last Jedi (2017)

the-last-jedi-theatrical-blog

The saga returns and the 2nd of the new Star Wars trilogy whams into the cinema with director Rian Johnson ensuring he gives fans a lot to be pleased about whilst gifting the starry sci-fi blockbuster some neat stylish additions of his own.

Continuing on from Rey’s (Daisy Ridley) island meet up with Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill), she hopes to learn the ways of the Jedi. Meanwhile Leia Organa (Carrie Fisher) is desperately trying to evacuate the Rebel base as the First Order try and diminish hope from the galaxy and wipe out the chance of Luke’s return. As they keep trying to escape, Kylo Ren (Adam Driver) is at odds with his place in all this, not helped by visions that unwillingly connect him to someone else.

Rian Johnson ensures the Star Wars aficionados can enjoy seeing certain characters, screen wipes and the charm of space opera good versus bad as the ever central theme. Hope and the notion of crushing that ideal is what drives the franchise and this is no exception but gladly the director after J.J. Abrams hands this outing some stylistic moments; ones that almost step out of the comfortable SW bubble, that I thoroughly enjoyed. These choices keep the film fresh and help it look exciting but more brooding than ‘The Force Awakens’. A sequence with endlessly mirroring a character, the salted planet of red surface and crystal critters and an extremely amazing breathtaking snappy edit of a soundless explosion are some examples of the visual splendour Johnson and his huge crew have created, which keep the galaxy alive with big screen wonder.

There are some points, mostly that lay within the story, that can feel utterly safe and predictable. Obviously I’m not wanting to spoil anything in this review so I’ll keep hush on the negatives I had but sufficed to say there are space filled deus ex machinas abounds and little character events that I expected straight away which sort of took me out of the immersive thrill. Also, some writing choices they give the action and/or characters felt cheap or not wholly unnecessary and without spoilers I really felt no need for a kiss that comes at one time.

Luke’s island hideout is rife with creatures and one species is the well advertised and product placed Porgs that clearly strike for the kids and the cute factor. Granted they can be quite fun but the clear merchandise cash in that they are and their constant gaping mouth wide eyed shtick becomes less amusing and ever tiring. Aside from a couple of story gripes and these puffin-esque beasties this movie has a good amount of twists and turns that keep the narrative interesting, a mission on a casino centred Canto Bight is rich with wealth, class differences and a couple of fun cameos. Another positive is John Williams returning with a score that’s safe but swells and simmers with the fan buzz of familiar sounds to satisfy all. I also love that a lot of the creatures you see are handled with animatronics which look much better and charming than the sheen of CGI.

Mark Hamill gets his teeth into much more screen time and it’s nice to see Luke Skywalker back, though he’s getting to play well with the bitter side of things. Hamill delivers enough emotion into his journey of who he is now and why he’s left the Jedi Master qualities behind with a tinge of will he/won’t he be a bad egg. Both Mark Hamill and Carrie Fisher lift the film with an explainable grace that probably stems from the nostalgia of their presence amongst the whirlwind of desperate escape tactics. Fisher herself still carries Leia as a beacon of hope and strength, she’s good and efficient and Fisher performs this effortlessly filling the General shoes with ease. Adam Driver gets to slowly break away from his angsty teen fits and dramatics and the conflict in his path is nicely evident in the performance. Daisy Ridley manages to keep up the brave and strong qualities of Rey, a hero through and through but one where Ridley nicely plays with the pressure of balancing her place in the Force and the pull of the dark side. Domhnall Gleeson amps up the villainous panto switch with sneers aplenty. Supreme Leader Snoke gets more screen time and has more depth and a constant creepy shadowy presence thanks to the mo-cap work from Andy Serkis.

It’s definitely a long film and this is a long review to almost reflect that. It’s the longest one yet but luckily it never feels a slog; it may not zip on by but it’s a well handled and well paced space adventure that feels like a grand step up from Episode 7 and one that has humour and stakes around every corner.

8/10

The Little Prince (2016)

the-little-prince-poster02

Thank goodness for Netflix, because otherwise I doubt I and many other people would have seen this glorious and gorgeous animation. Mixing computer animated scenes with the true art of stop-motion sequences, this French-Canadian movie is colourful, stirring and magical.

Single Mother (Rachel McAdams) is a busy worker and wants her daughter to follow suit by attending the prestigious Werth Academy. However The Little Girl (Mackenzie Foy) befriends the much talked about nutty man next door leading her down a more adventurous fun path. The Aviator (Jeff Bridges) has stories to tell and interests the girl with a tale about a Little Prince (Riley Osborne) who he met in the Sahara Desert.

In a way, the 3D graphics of the animated world featuring the girl and her older neighbour reminded me of the look ‘The Incredibles’ provided. The shape of people and their faces harking to that sort of visual. The way this grey and busy landscape is seen is brilliant, just the times we zoom out to see ant sized cars all leaving on the dot for work shows how professional and disengaged to a more fun life these adults are.

The special moments are in the papery looking but also wooden style design of the stop-motion characters. I’ve always said that the whole process of stop-motion animation is something admirable and rewarding and I stick by it ever more so due to this beautiful exploration of the medium. There’s a great charm in seeing The Little Prince stories come into the fold during this film and it gives the story an extra fancy touch.

Having never read the source material myself, I couldn’t comment on what the treatment of the novella by Antoine de Saint-Exupery is like. They me quite faithful or changed a lot but I enjoyed the story presented here a lot. His tale is moulded nicely and Irena Brignull and Bob Persichetti create a lovely screenplay that fits for all ages, centred around the idea of growing up and forgetting childhood. At times, this theme gets dealt an emotional hand and I felt a little tingly at the ideas being put across.

Only one portion of this movie kind of felt off and that’s annoyingly the third act as the Little Girl decides to take action and flies off in the hope of seeing the much talked about prince. It could be viewed as an act that loses people because it gets off track from the better grounded narrative scenes that come before, which is exactly how I see it. I guess you could say that at the time the girl falls, what comes after can be interpreted how you like which makes more sense but still doesn’t stop the last act being slightly iffy.

The music gives you chills, with a wonderful score from Hans Zimmer accompanying the on screen action with suitable bounce and heart. Camille provides lush vocals during the film, in a way that echoes of the enchanting yet haunting sounds from ‘Coraline’. Another positive is the light comedy that hits well, the sad notes of loss and looking to the stars for laughter provides a lovely notion and the pairing of the girl and aviator are fun to watch.

All I can really say is, it’s a massive shame this won’t be up for an Academy Best Animated Feature award due to it not being theatrically released. If it was it’d certainly give Disney and Pixar a severe run for their money because it’s stunning, emotional and special.

8.5/10

Sicario (2015)

sicario

As if coming out of the screen, this crime thriller feels gritty, real and made me as a viewer totally buy into this dangerous underworld presented throughout. The key word here would be tension which is applied generously from top to bottom and makes this story so tightly wound that you sit on the edge of the seat waiting to see when it will rip.

FBI Tactics agent Kate Macer (Emily Blunt) is put upon a new team and case that gives her a chance to find out more about the clean-up operations she’s been on. Matt Graver (Josh Brolin), a Department of Justice member heads this secretive mission to Mexico with Alejandro Gillick (Benicio del Toro) in tow. As they extract a prisoner from Juarez, Kate soon finds herself in a worrying circle of cover-ups and lies.

‘Prisoners’ director Denis Villeneuve brings that same dark touch to this gripping narrative. The film boils along nicely, truly exuding a sense of tension that works with this taut plot. The film has great moments, from a nervous traffic jam to a family dinner scene that shouts brilliant character and directing work. There’s also neat choices in the switch up of the world we are given. We slowly pan over surveillance screens which tell a story and near the end we find ourselves amongst a tunnel mission that flickers between usual cam, night vision and thermal imagery which makes the entire sequence feel more atmospheric. Villeneuve sure knows how to deliver in terms of thrills with smarts attached.

Taylor Sheridan does a masterful job with the screenplay, as he plants in attention grabbing scenes of explosive value but doesn’t rely on those moments to sell the story. The bubbling undercurrent is of intelligence and secrets and lies. The way in which we wonder why Kate is picked and there comes to expose a hidden exercise and then her declaration of intent to stay with them lets us in to more dangerous truths. Sheridan writes a good strong minded female protagonist that we follow and empathise with, though perhaps she really doesn’t get much win in the way of the men around her, a comment on this world maybe.

The style is present but never outdoes the substance which is great. It’s a film that makes you think and in this age of spectacle it’s brilliant to watch a movie that works on a more cranium level than CGI and green-screen. Of course in this threatening world of cartels and criminal lords there are explosions and gun fights but that works for Kate’s environment and lets us know straight away how high the stakes are for her position. Shots of Mexico are sprawling, the common long shot wide frames let us breathe in the city. A beautiful sunset is captured amazingly with shadows and light before the tunnel mission begins. It’s most defintley a Roger Deakins look and it boosts the film a lot.

Johann Johannsson returns with force after his stunning composing for ‘The Theory of Everything’. The music is packed with suspense, the foreboding sounds adding a whole weight of fear and danger. That doesn’t mean it doesn’t come with emotion too, there’s that feeling behind the score that makes you feel lost and saddened with this world also, another connective tool to Kate’s character.

The only niggle I had with this feature was with the presentation of a Mexican police officer which I guess they were trying to make us feel for and see how he gets caught up in the madness but the scenes with him weren’t engaging or long enough to make the punch near the end more satisfying. On the whole though, the little twists or real life sour ending makes this movie real and interesting.

Emily Blunt is exquisite and strong as Kate and leads through the majority of the film in her quest to uncover the reasoning behind her place on the team. The emotion she brings is great and puts us on her side from the get go. Josh Brolin steals the show in terms of lightness, there’s always something you can’t put your finger on with him but the surface layer of comedy works for that fake presentation. Benicio del Toro flat out steals the show as the mysterious Alejandro. The grimaces, the stern expressions and attitude to his job keeps you guessing and del Toro is just damn compelling. Daniel Kaluuya does a fine thing with his sidekick character and getting wrapped up in the world Kate’s invited into.

A savage watch with a constant trend of a tough and unfair world shown by direction, acting and writing talents. There’s a delightful balance of tragedy and threat throughout that keeps the thrills going through the run-time.

7.5/10

Inherent Vice (2015)

inherent_vice_ver2_xxlg

The great thing about this film is that it’s made me want to go out and get Thomas Pynchon’s novel to read how his style may or may not vary in comparison to this concoction of comedy, hallucinogenic surroundings in an ever maddening spiral of crime and marijuana.

I can’t really condense the plot as it is long and dense but try I must. It’s 1970 and Doc Sportello (Joaquin Phoenix) is visited one night by ex-girlfriend Shasta Fay Hepworth (Katherine Waterston), who tells him Mickey Wolfmann’s (Eric Roberts) wife and lover are planning to send him to the looney bin. As Doc tries to find Mickey and then Shasta he keeps running into hard edged cop Christian ‘Bigfoot’ Bjornsen (Josh Brolin) who plays his own game in the world leaving Doc to uncover returning dead folk, FBI houses and some eerie Golden Fang group.

That could possibly be the worst plot summary for the last cinema watch of January but I gave it a shot. As gathered hopefully, you may realise this story has a hell of a lot going on and watching it unfold does get confusing at times. Not so much in the narrative just in keeping up with consequences and names and the like. This is why I want to go out and read the source material to try and wrap my head around it further. That’s credit due to Paul Thomas Anderson’s screenplay which has enticed me to Pynchon’s way and the story, however complex is an entertaining journey to push through.

Anderson directs with his expected touch, the long running time letting characters explode into believable life, settings and scenarios getting room to unwind and breathe. Happily after a couple of heavier dramatic outings, this feature is lighter, breezier and funny. The trailer jumped out at me from first viewing and it came with a Coen Brothers quirkiness that intrigued me and though the full movie isn’t as in running with that mode, it is subtly funny throughout and a few audible chuckles make their way into the open at downright odd moments that happen.

One of the strongest aspects has to be found in the costuming and general look of the film. The production crew and all hands coming together to craft clothes and decor must be heftily patted on the back for making this film look amazing and 100% feel the part. The fun to be had at seeing how Doc changes his mould from sloucher hippy with straw hat to smoothed suit and tie is a warm leap, the comedy of him even changing hair styles to fit in his P.I lifestyle makes the cinema trip worthwhile.

The voice-over decision works well too I must say, adding a neat zany touch as it interrupts from time to time between sentences of dialogue alluding to how Doc is then feeling. The narration by Joanna Newsom is just so right for the part and sounds quite blase in her delivery that it provides another eccentric layer to proceedings.

Joaquin Phoenix is a huge delight and the blank eyed stare he gives in either confusion at madness occurring in front of him or his influence under drugs helps make Doc that much better to like. You root for him and even in his quite childish way, he’s smart and loving and you want him to succeed, the past flame is a hurt in his life and Phoenix makes that clear without forcing it down our throats. Katherine Waterston has been in a few films, but I think this appearance will be the big curtain opener for people as she’s flawed but relatable and you buy into hers and Doc’s relationship. Josh Brolin is gruff and hulky as the big bad cop though as it goes on you see how much Brolin looks like he’s having fun with his character, smashing on doors and ordering morto panecako (or however it’s spelt!) Owen Wilson is nice guy done wrong trying to do right and crops up again and again in a shady role as he attempts to get back home, the huskier frat boy role is gone and a maturer Wilson emerges. Jena Malone gets a short scene, though it’s easily one of the funniest as pictures are shared and fake teeth are bared. Everyone in this film is downright terrific and make their characters thrive.

The story as mentioned is convoluted and it could be deemed as a big problem of the movie, but try to look past it as it’s a really well made film however hard the plot may be to keep up with. Not inherently easy to grip or overly hilarious but just the right amount of funny and creative puffs from Anderson’s directorial joint maintains intrigue in this strange free loving 70’s film.

6/10