Sicario 2: Soldado – Film Review

I never bought into the hype of the first Sicario, and saw it as a well-directed thriller with a strong central performance from Emily Blunt.  Did it need a sequel?  Probably not but there’s certainly stories to be found on the drug cartel and the Mexican border. 

Josh Brolin reprises his role as federal agent Matt Graver, and is tasked to start a drug war on the border in attempt to stop the cartels trafficking terrorists across to the US.  He’s given license by the US government to use any means necessary so he enlists the help of shady operative Alejandro (Benicio Del Toro).  

The plot may seem a bit convoluted, silly and backwards, because it is.  Many critics have cited the film as right-wing propaganda, which I don’t think it entirely is, but it definitely stretches some racial political narratives to get the ball rolling.  And that makes the whole movie a bit uneasy, because spoiler alert, the film kicks off with a terrorist attack in a supermarket.  An attack that has no basis in reality, and pretty separate from the rest of the film.  So, what was the point exactly?  Other than to create some form of ultimate baddie and an excuse for some dirty tactics and killing later on.  It felt unneeded.  That aside the plot ends up properly straightforward, though quite irritating.  There are several moments that have no meaning, as the guys pulling the strings keep going back on themselves.  It was frustrating because the film lost all its narrative direction, with the constant starting and stopping. 

Despite this director Stefano Sollima does a good job of copying Denis Villeneuve’s style from the first movie, keeping the action sharp and subdued.  The action is thrilling and a nice break from the plot nonsense.  It’s a gritty movie, with a lot of death, which I wasn’t a massive fan of, but it’s directed well enough to make it pass.  Josh Brolin and Benicio Del Toro are fine in the major roles, however they are playing very uninteresting characters.  They are bad guys, and seem to have no redeemable qualities so I didn’t care about them in the slightest.  Even the attempt to give Alejandro (Del Toro) depth didn’t land, because of how astronomically menacing he is.  The emotional connect with cartel boss daughter Isabel Reyes (Isabela Moner) was there for a brief moment, but wasn’t written with much detail.  It’s amazing that this was penned by Taylor Sheridan, who I like, because the script lacked any sort of weight.   

sicario-soldado-1

I don’t think the film is offensive because it’s obvious that everyone in the film are bad people, doing bad things and nothing is justified as a necessary evil.  However, the film didn’t have the good and idealistic Emily Blunt character to balance it out, or for a reason to be bothered, so it ended up being very dull.  Yet dull doesn’t mean boring, and the film wasn’t boring.  It has a few exciting scenes, and it’s patiently shot and acted.   

 

Is it worth the price of a cinema ticket? 

No, let a whole new host of people make a drug cartel movie that has a point to it. 

Hereditary – Film Review

Boy was I excited to see this one.  Horror films are the greatest genre when done right, and this film has been praised almost across the board from critics.  The trailer was incredibly enticing, and I entered the cinema anxiously, worrying about how much the film would scare me.  How disappointed was I?

Toni Collette stars as Annie, a miniatures artist, whose mother has just passed away.  Her husband and two children (one a young teenager, one an old teenager) are dealing with the death in their own ways, however in their mourning something more sinister appears to be going on.

This is a classic case of great form not equating to a great film.  On a technical level this film is outstanding, with perfect cinematography, tight writing, and high class performances.  However the film struggles to find a hook or a point of interest by the time it’s done.  And this was properly disappointing because I got about two thirds of the way through and was thinking: this is good, but this is it isn’t it – nothing more is coming.  There was no ‘grab you by the throat’ plot point, and ultimately the film lacked meaning.

Focusing on the positives though, it is an expertly crafted couple of hours.  The film is beautifully shot, with Wes Anderson esque framing, and low key natural lighting.  It parallels stylistically between Annie’s miniature models and reality well, and the opening shot (an example of this) is sublime.  The acting is top draw – Collette is brutally engaging as a very emotive and often deranged mother.  There is a moment where she lists all the crazy things that have happened in her family, and is so captivating because of her delivery.  Milly Shapiro and Alex Wolff are brilliant as the children; Wolff in particular is starting to impress me with his range of teenage sadness (Patriots Day).  I was also a fan of the quieter father role, played by Gabriel Byrne as he effectively becomes the only hero of the film.  These actors in the drama are what the film gets right, over the horror stuff.

giphy (5)

However not that all of the horror stuff doesn’t work.  In fact a lot of it is unnerving, and spooky.  One scene involving a séance was the only real scene that got me on edge, but overall the film made me uncomfortable (in a good way) throughout.  It was a little lacklustre at times that’s all, and even though the themes of the film work, (mental health issues passed down through a family like a curse), they could have been delivered with more vigour.  And they could have unpicked more things that they set up, because without spoiling anything, I got the feeling there is a much more interesting road this film could have gone down.  If you’re into slow burn horror movies, you’ll enjoy this, but you might not love it like some critics do.

 

Is it worth the price of a cinema ticket?

Yes!

Solo: A Star Wars Story – Film Review

Something that Infinity War showed me was that a massive blockbuster franchise can be interesting, and can get me excited for what’s coming next.  I enjoyed The Last Jedi but it made me pretty much stop caring about what was coming next in the Star Wars universe – it made me stop caring.  There seems nowhere to go in the saga, and the spin-offs are looking backwards.  They are looking backwards at a character whose main attraction is their mystery, and seedy past.  Han Solo is one of the great movie characters, so why ruin it by explaining it all?  So it’s taken me a while to catch this, but now I have, not all of my worries came true.

One of the positives I’ve heard people say about this film is that it is fun, and I’d have to agree with that!  Yet it’s not out and out silly fun, and handles the tone well.  It’s fun where Rogue One sometimes wasn’t, and serious where sometimes The Last Jedi was too zany.  However I’m not going to only compare it to other Star Wars movies, because actually the film felt the most separate from the main saga – for the first time!  Even though it revolves around an iconic character of the franchise, the content was distant to the usual space opera affair.  It really does have a criminal and dirty aesthetic, away from the melodramatic Sci-Fi stuff which at times was bleak but I liked because it was consistent right the way through.  The film starts grey and ends grey.

All credit to Ron Howard for steering this ship into a more than competent directorial effort.  He was cited as a safe pair of hands, but the film actually has a lot of style.  The action sequences were exciting, cohesive and well put together.  I was a massive fan of how mechanical the film was; with everything having a meaning and a purpose.  Okay so the characters have got to get to a planet to get a thingy?  There’s a special route to the planet though, and we have to fix something so that we can carry the thingy.  This made the usual bore of the same plot more engaging, because it felt grounded in its problem solving.  It’s quite muted visually, which allowed the flair to come from the acting performances.  And I wasn’t expecting much.  Alden Ehrenreich was weird casting, but honestly I thought he nailed.  He’s given the odd bad line, and occasionally makes out of place decisions as Solo, however his imitation of Han is great.  Emilia Clarke on the other hand is a bit of a snooze, though her fraudulent acting doesn’t crumble the entire movie.  Paul Bettany is of course the best part of the film, with his villain being the perfect mix of polite and evil – he was probably more inspired as a baddie than Darth Vader to be honest.

null

Not sure I could ask more than what the film gave me.  It’s the first modern Star Wars film that didn’t feel too long, and each set piece was a blast.  The range of minor characters were good company – Lando (Donald Glover) and Beckett (Woody Harrelson) both charming.  Unfortunately the film lacks any form of true empathy, and any emotion presented felt forced, with any quieter dialogue coming across as phony.  I’m still waiting for another “I love you.” “I know,” moment.   Despite this I’m thankful that the film didn’t bludgeon the Han Solo character, and worked as a snappy adventure film.

 

Is it worth the price of a cinema ticket?

I was planning on saying NO whether the film was good or not, simply because the only way to gear Disney into new characters and stories is if these back story films stop making money.

Love, Simon – Film Review

This film’s first trailer was appalling, and I had no desire of seeing it till a couple of weeks ago.  It’s had good things said about it, and the last trailer made it seem more appealing.  Basically it’s another teenage comedy of age movie, except here the main character Simon is gay, but hasn’t told anyone yet.  On his school’s blog that reveals ‘secrets’ about its students, an anonymous poster comes out to the world.  In an attempt to not feel so isolated Simon begins emailing this student, and suddenly his immediate life starts to change.

I think it’s important to note that this film is a proper middle to upper class painting.  The American class system is strange, but the film revolves around well off kids, whose main problems are trying to get into Ivy League schools.  Their parents are good looking, happy, liberal and successful who obviously love their kids more than anything else.  This is fine, just a little soul-sucking, because middling USA is so uninteresting.  Teenagers going to Starbucks, performing in a school play, and going to tedious parties is boring, so the films setting is a little dull.

What keeps the film from getting stuck in that setting is its main character.  Nick Robinson as Simon is great, and likeable.  He’s laid back, smart and believable.  Some of the decisions he makes to get the plot going in the middle are frustrating, and thin, but Robinson’s acting is good enough that you enjoy being in his company.  Other than that the adults are the best thing about the film, with Tony Hale and Natasha Rothwell as the teachers having the funniest moments.  Simon’s parents are also played well (Jennifer Garner and Josh Duhamel) and they steal the emotional scenes late on in the film.  The other kids are fine, but aren’t given anything interesting to do.

lovesimon-girlfriends

At times the movie is fun, and moves along nicely, then all of a sudden there’s some bad dialogue that had me cringing.  This happened a lot, and has ruined any thoughts of me wanting to see it again.  The character Martin (Logan Miller) was actually intolerable, and the film sort of relies on his involvement, which is a shame.  Though despite this the film worked on an emotional level, where the message of the film lands.  It’s about a young man struggling to open up to massive part of his personality, and I think how even in a progressive society it’s still hard to come out and feel accepted by the people around you.  This is all dealt with well, and the dramatic scenes that come from it have some punch.  It is also directed with some style, having some terrific cinematography throughout.  So it is an okay film that is schmaltzy, sometimes excruciatingly cheesy and often bland but with enough sentiment to save it.

 

Is it worth the price of a cinema ticket?

Sure, I wouldn’t be rushing out to see it though.

Ghost Stories – Film Review

I was pleasantly surprised to see that this film has a pretty big release.  A British horror, with a writer from Yorkshire, and produced by a company based in Sheffield.  It gives a different look to UK cinema on a mainstream scale, which is a good thing (probably).  The film stars Andy Nyman (who also writes and directs alongside Jeremy Dyson) as supernatural debunker Professor Phillip Goodman, who encounters three paranormal cases that may be unexplainable.  He goes through these ‘incidents’ and begins to unpick the people at the centre of them, however something is lurking on his own mind.

The way this is film is presented gives it a fluid, and loose feel.  At first it appears as a mockumentary, then it turns into a straight narrative, then soon it’s unclear who’s telling the story at all.  This worked because the film never got stuck into any of these zones, and it kept the film out of reality, which makes the supernatural elements more authentic.  These spooky events were spooky, thanks to the characters apart of them, and the way that they were shown.  Each case came with an interesting performance , the first being Paul Whitehouse as a sad working class man, then Alex Lawther as the misfit teenager, and finally Martin Freeman as the snobby high-flyer.  They all brought their own intrigue to the table, and were played superbly by the actors.  The ‘incidents’ themselves were bog-standard for a horror – some kind of attack in the dark that could possibly be put down as a mental break.  These scenes have their scary moments, but ultimately weren’t really terrifying.  They relied on quite a few jump scares, which are only annoying if that’s the only thing going on, and thankfully this film had a lot more going on.  It was the mystery of the situation, and the person, that made the cases engaging.

DSC_0941

As the movie proceeds, it gets more unhinged, and soon the intensity of the horror becomes something different.  This was an excellent progress of the narrative, and Andy Nyman in the central role guides this.  He’s good as the cynical psychic denier, who slowly questions himself as the film goes on.  It’s something we’ve seen before, but the payoff in this film was so satisfying for me, and it’s where the proper terror comes.  There’s a moment right at the end, where the film actually scared me, and it’s a piece of true horror.  I loved this, and enjoyed the film a great deal.  It’s well done, to a point where the narrative is perfectly paced, with a mix of credibility and mysticism.  The directing is great, from two first timers, with some brilliant lighting effects, and nice use of open cinematography.  If you are a horror fan, you can’t go wrong here, but more than that the film seemed to involve so much more than the poltergeist events, with lots of poignant subtleties (definitely a good thing).

 

Is it worth the price of a cinema ticket?

YES!  This film ties in well with Journeyman (review here: https://robsfocuspull.blog/2018/04/04/journeyman-film-review/) because that too was a ‘Screen Yorkshire’ film that I described as possibly not the best cinema experience.  Ghost Stories is one hundred percent a top cinema experience, and a good representation for what you can do with a decent budget in the UK.

* also in the screening of this, I was sat next to three awful people who were talking and making noise all the way through it.  Almost to a point where the middle case was a slightly lacklustre because I was distracted.  This has made me want to see the film again, on my own.

Blockers – Film Review

Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg have a good track record as producers, and they’re the only pedigree that made me want to see Blockers.  A teen sex comedy, but with 40 year old wrestler John Cena as the lead didn’t particularly entice me.  Though after hearing some good things I decided to give it go.  At first it’s basically just Superbad, but with three girls trying to lose their virginity before they leave for college, instead of three guys.  However these three girls have protective parents (in their own particular ways) who are going try and stop this from happening.

Something to notice about most of the comedies Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg are involved with, is that their heart is in the right place.  If you think about movies like The Night Before or Knocked Up, their emotional centres are good, and work in the narrative.  They are not total chaotic laughs, and usually have some form of family or friendship value to them.  This film is similar, where the love between the characters is present and it makes the film a pleasant viewing.  It’s hard not to keep a smile on your face, when it’s clear the parents love their kids, and the writings good enough that you believe all the friendships.  This comes directly from how well all the teenagers act.  Kathryn Newton, Geraldine Viswanathan, and Gideon Adlon play the main three, and they have great chemistry.  Viswnathan is the best of them, and is charming throughout.

Unfortunately John Cena cannot act, however he is naturally funny.  And the film as a whole has a naturally funny feel.  Not all the jokes are original, smart or interesting but they come in as likeable.  It is a funny movie, and a couple of bits really got me going, from both situation and the actors.  Leslie Mann is hilarious in everything she is in, and had a fun connection with Cena.  The third parent Hunter, played by Ike Barinholtz, was actually a well rounded, engaging character who was also funny from his way of being.  I think this way of being comes from the writing, so props to Brian and Jim Kehoe, because the characters were humorous in different ways.

1_rIFO1JWsrStOJgZhtUi1Tg

Kay Cannon makes her directorial debut here, and it’s nice to have a female director with this kind of film, because we get a new perspective on the mainstream comedy (less masculine nonsense).  The directing in the end isn’t massively impressive, though the film does not look bad, and is never boring.  It did become that gross-out thing that I don’t enjoy, where Cena is put through something I wish on no-one – a scene that is dragged on for too long.  Most of the runtime is pretty funny though, and it’s a comedy so what more do you want.  It’s also just a nice film, about nice people doing stupid things, and I’m glad films like this are popular.

 

Is it worth the price of a cinema ticket?

Yes!

A Quiet Place – Film Review

Some people may not be aware that John Krasinski has already directed two films, including a David Foster Wallace adaptation.  They weren’t successful, but with his third feature he seems to have found the right formula.  He stars alongside his wife Emily Blunt in this film, playing parents of three young children in a post apocalyptic world.  The rest of the human population has been pretty much wiped out by mysterious creatures that hunt down anything that makes a sound.  To survive the family has to stay absolutely silent in everything that they do: no talking, no quick movements, and certainly no loud toys.

This film is begging to be seen by an audience, and is a fantastic effort from John Krasinski.  He manages to demand silence from the audience, because the point of the movie: BEING QUIET is so well established.  Within the first few minutes you are aware of how the characters are forced to live, and the consequences if they fail in their routine.  This silence focuses your attention on the characters, and for 90 minutes you are in tune with the drama.  The building tension and fear of any sound means that the explosive parts of the movie have an incredible impact.  It is really exhilarating when the film picks up that pace, because you are on edge waiting for something to explode.  The quietness also brings your attention to the acting, where the lead pair are terrific.  Emily Blunt is the warm, loving mother who desperately loves her husband and Krasinski is the seemingly cold, protective father.  Krasinki’s character is one of the most interesting I’ve seen this year, because you can sense that the children fear him, but rely on him.  He’s tough, and just through Krasinki’s facial expressions you can see his utter determination to keep his family safe.

A-Quiet-Place-Buzz1

The child actors do a decent job.  Sometimes they are not totally convincing and Millicent Simmonds as only daughter Regan did have the tendency to be a bit annoying.  Though the films pacing and execution meant the film didn’t dwell on the common downfalls of child actors and characters.  Krasinski and his fellow writers (Bryan Woods and Scott Beck) effectively create a series of plot devices.  This often doesn’t work but in this film they felt necessary, and it was solid world building.  Everything happened for a reason, and every step was calculated, which made the film satisfying.  It’s a mysterious thriller slash horror with plenty of answers for its questions.  And it’s directed well.  The film is nice looking, and everything in the narrative appeared at the right time.  In the middle of the film there is a firework scene that, cliché coming, took my breath away.  Does the film get a little too schmaltzy towards the end? Yes but overall it is straight to the edge thriller, that works to be exciting, sentimental and at times quite scary, with moments of fun exploitation cinema.

 

Is it worth the price of a cinema ticket?

Yes!

Journeyman – Film Review

At this point Paddy Considine is very close to being a British film legend, for both acting and directing.  His first film Tyrannosaur was terrific – a really moving, honest, and untold tale of disenfranchised people in middle England.  This time it’s more of a passion piece, a boxing movie of sorts, about the tragedy that can come from the sport.  Considine stars as middleweight champion Matty Burton, at the end of his career but with a point to prove.  He has a young child with his wife Emma (Jodie Whittaker), and they wait at home whilst he fights.  A fight to defend his belt early on in the film drastically changes the life of Matty Burton, and the people around him.

Going into this you kind of know what to expect.  It’s going to be brutally emotional, dramatic and at times devoid of joy.  This seems like the themes Considine likes to explore, for better or worst.  It’s a tough film to market because of that, with the narrative being a drawn out tragedy.  Quickly the simplicities of what Considine is trying to achieve is clear, and you have to prepare for an hour of mostly being sad and uncomfortable.  So it’s not for everyone, which is why this film is hard to review, because at a raw level it is brilliant – I just wouldn’t be rushing to recommend this to all my friends.  The story is tough, because we respond to the situation (a man losing his sense of self, movement and memory to brain damage) like many of the characters do.  We’re scared, devastated and unsure how to help.  One of the joys of the film is seeing characters overcome this, and begin to understand their own capabilities.  It’s a nice human thing that Considine acutely captures with gentle filmmaking.

And even though there are violent, shocking, and aggressive moments, for the most part it is very gentle filmmaking.  He stays close up throughout a lot of the film, and rarely is there a flash of him cinematically showing off.  It’s all about the situation and the acting.  The acting from the main two (Considine and Whittaker) is great, and they have so much room to show range.  Their interactions are slow and at times difficult, so there is breathing space for some proper emotion.  Whittaker is the heart of the film, with her loneliness and hopelessness being ever present.  Considine does well basically moving from hero to desperate villain, and makes all the subtle changes of voice, and physicality completely convincing.  A phone-call between them got my tear ducts going.

Screen-Shot-2017-11-23-at-21.02.27

In short this film is tremendous at portraying the terrifying issue of brain damage in contact sports.  It does it with bleakness, but for me that part of the film worked.  The only major problem I had with the film is that seeing it in the cinema felt almost pointless and I’m hoping it gets a good streaming release.  It’s a film to watch definitely, but perhaps in the comfort of your own home, with a cup of tea to get you through.

 

Is it worth the price of a cinema ticket?

Saying NO to this opens a whole can of worms about not supporting independent British movies.  Considine is clearly talented, and I’m interested to see what he can do with a bigger budget.  It’s just I can definitely see the benefit of this getting a streaming release as well as a cinematic one, because it’s hard to make the effort to go out and see a film you know isn’t going to be a totally happy experience (and is straight-forward in its technique).

Unsane – Film Review

Steven Soderbergh is back to making really cool films.  Last year’s Logan Lucky was enjoyable, and this year he’s made a film shot on an iPhone.  It stars Claire Foy as Sawyer Valentini, who accidently gets herself committed to a mental institution.  However does she belong to be there?

The ambiguity of my plot synopsis says a lot about this film, certainly the first half.  You only have to know the concept to be reeled in, and that it’s a 90 minute thriller.  The first half of the movie is ambiguous about Sawyer’s mindset, and the events happening around her.  After that it becomes more transparent, but no less gripping.  Soderbergh does a good job of switching the point of the story, with only a little bit of baggage in the middle.  His choice to shoot it on an iPhone really enhances the experience, because it gives another layer to a pretty by the book genre film.  The (almost) 16:9 ratio gives the film a enclosed, claustrophobic and documentary like feel.  There is space above the characters for things to lurk, or not lurk, creating a sense that the actors are small or trapped.  It also has a unique lighting style thanks to the iPhone, with all of the colours appearing starker, and more vivid.  There’s an orange hue over most of the film, which gives a nice haze to the main character.  It’s an engaging film to look at, and the narrative is greatly improved because of this interesting choice Soderbergh made.

Foy is terrific, and is definitely the next big thing now her stint in The Crown is over.  One of things I love about the film is that her character isn’t actually the nicest human being ever.  She has a cold side, and Foy plays this well.  Sometimes her English accent is slightly present, but her performance is physical and boisterous enough for you to look past that.  Her relationship with fellow patient Nate Hoffman (Jay Pharoah) is believable despite Pharoah being occasionally a bit wooden.  Juno Temple is great as the outrageous Violet, and Joshua Leonard does his best as the creepy guy stereotype David.

uns_20171205._1.106.1.tif

I really am a sucker for a short, snappy and stylistic film that gets to the point of exactly what it’s trying to achieve.  It’s the sharpness of the narrative where there’s no pretention, similar to films like Free Fire or Green Room.  This movie does fall into genre clichés the more it goes on, and the plot is incredibly fragile but it is thoroughly entertaining.  Soderbergh is a great director, and his risk in shooting this in an inventive way is admirable, and I think it paid off.

 

Is it worth the price of a cinema ticket?

Yes!

You Were Never Really Here – Film Review

Lynne Ramsay is an out and out auteur.  Her latest effort You Were Never Really Here has been hyped for its major release since its success at festivals last year.  It’s about mysterious anti-hero Joe, played by Joaquin Phoenix, as he attempts to rescue a senators daughter who has been captured by child sex traffickers in New York City.  Joe is tackling a tough past, and the weight of looking after his mother whilst he violently delves deeper into a dark, dark world.

Phoenix is one of the great actors working right now, and he is this film.  He swallows up this performance, and throws it up all over the table.  It’s heartbreaking, hopeless and uncomfortable to watch him battle his way through the villains of the film.  The villains being his abusive past, and his PTSD, not just the goons trying to kill him.  Every step of the movie he has to remind himself where he is and what he’s doing, as he gets lost in his head.  It’s a fantastic use of a protagonist, because he’s unpredictable.  This leads the whole movie to be loose cannon that feels like it could end at any second.  And when it does end your left wondering if you enjoyed the experience or not.

Ramsay is a phenomenal director because of these things.  With each choice of camera angle or edit she’s trying to unnerve you, and trip you up.  I’m not sure whether I liked all the choices she made.  For example the film is brutal, though often doesn’t show the explicit violence, which is really interesting.  I loved her trying new ways to tell this intense story, such as the CCTV shots, but at the same time my movie brain would have been excited to see all the action in full.  The way the narrative stops and starts is also interesting, like a car going up in gears then stalling and spurting oil all over the road.  There are changes of pace constantly, where you go from meandering intrigues to heart-pumping aggressiveness.  It’s less of a lightning paced thriller, and more of a film that interconnects its main characters movements with their emotions.  Everything Joe is thinking, or feeling is splashed onto the screen with jarring, though precise consequences.

YWNRH_3-feature-1600x900-c-default

It’s an unforgiving 90 minutes, with a remarkable Jonny Greenwood score behind it.  His work on Phantom Thread should have earned him a best score win at the Oscars, and his efforts here are equally as brilliant.  It’s a diverse soundtrack that expertly shifts the films message for each particular scene it’s playing over.  The friend I saw the film with said the music was the best bit, and I’d have to agree with him.  For all the sensory overload and agitated execution the music was at the foundations keeping it from falling apart.  Like Annihilation it’s still stuck in my mind, and sits in the category of hesitant fondness, which usually is an indicator of a classic film.

 

Is it worth the price of a cinema ticket?

Yes definitely worth going to a smaller cinema to check it out.  Only 90 minutes!