Month: December 2015

Sicario – Review #56

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Remind me to never piss off Benicio Del Toro.

SicarioSicario, directed by Denis Villeneuve, is a tale of the Mexican cartels. FBI agent Kate Macer is recruited by Matt Graver, a government official with a less than clear assignment for her. Leading them is Alejandro, who may or may not have another underlying objective. What follows is a tale of a normal person entering a world she has never been in before, and the eventual outcomes of it.

The Mexican drug crisis: a very real and very gruesome dilemma. Those lynched dismembered bodies that although were fake looked horrifyingly real? Those are not fictional imaginings of the movie. Those things do happen. You could search for images on Google if you want to, but I very, VERY strongly recommend not doing so.

Villeneuve teams up with the master himself, Roger Deakins, to produce an amazing looking and feeling movie. Nothing is glorified. Everything feels bleak. You are thrown head first into this dark and unforgiving world, and nobody is there to hold your hand in comfort. Villeneuve builds up tension and dread with master precision, and Deakins helps him with his brilliant cinematography, capturing the field of fire with his down to earth, first person shot design. Adding to that with the score that just keeps building and building, especially in a helicopter scene where all you hear are blades whirring and the sound of a single note from a synthesizer slowly getting louder and louder, and you have a movie where every fiber of your being will stand on its end.

Emily Blunt is Kate Macer, our leading star for most of the movie, up until the last act. She is the tough, headstrong police officer who believes that the world is straight forward. Being thrust into a world where it is anything but that, she questions her morality and whether what she doing is appropriate. Emily gives a great performance, portraying the confusion and fear a person like her would have in a situation like this.

And then we have Benicio Del Toro, playing the morally ambiguous Alejandro. Holy shit. His performance is nothing less than spectacular. Benicio has always been a great actor (see Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas for confirmation), and here he brings his A+ game, playing this dark and troubled man, who will not stop at anything to get what he wants. You can see it in his eyes.

This could’ve just been your clear cut thriller movie with a definite good side and bad side, but what really gives Sicario its deserving acclaim is that there is no definite good side and bad side. Oh sure, it could be obvious to make the drug cartels the bad side, and for the most part they are, but people seem, or maybe worse, want to forget that some people, perhaps underlings, who work for the cartel, are just regular people trying their best to make money in life. With the constant fighting between the cartel and the US, the loss of innocent life is inevitable, and here Sicario shows that without shame, being displayed simply with a man and his kid trying to live a normal life in Mexico. Inversely, the usual good side is not spotless, as proven by Alejandro later on, but on how I’ll leave it to the movie to show you.

Sicario, a very well made thriller with masterful suspense full to the brim. One of Benicio Del Toro’s best, one of Emily Blunt’s best, and one of 2015’s best, no doubt.

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A Hard Day’s Night – Review #55

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Eh, Rubber Soul was better. Title song is top notch, though.

A Hard Day's NightA Hard Day’s Night, directed by Richard Lester, is a somewhat fantasized look at a day in the life of The Beatles. There’s not much of any over-arching plots, it’s just John, Paul, George and Ringo going to a gig and the shenanigans/women that follow behind them. Oh, and there’s also something involving Paul grandfather or something.

Do I even need to tell you who The Beatles are? They’re only one of the most famous bands of all time, and were the front-runners for the British invasion of the 1960’s, paving the way for other bands such as The Who and The Rolling Stones. Now, I like to separate The Beatles’ discography into two periods: the Black and White period, with the Beatles first garnering mainstream attention with songs like ‘I Wanna Hold Your Hand’ and ‘She Loves You’; and the Color period, where they expanded their music and churned out my personal favorites, ‘In My Life’ and ‘Strawberry Fields Forever’. A Hard Day’s Night is situated squarely on the former period.

Right from the opening scene, with John, Paul and Ringo running from the female horde of fans while the title song plays, the movie sets a mood of nonsense. Not the bad kind of nonsense, mind you, more of a Monty Python type of nonsense. It sets up this world where quirky things can happen to the Fab Four seemingly out of nowhere and as if it’s a natural thing, with it’s documentary style film-making by Richard Lester. They treat is as though it’s just 4 teens mucking around, which in a basic sense is what the movie centers on. It focuses on the group themselves rather than a specific person like John or Paul, throwing away any traditional narrative in the process. The movie jumps from scene to scene, some scenes kicking logic to the curb, with it’s only intent to be comedic.

In terms of being a comedy, the movie takes a more Blackadder approach, with its focuses being more on funny dialogue, while some slapstick à la them running around and tripping themselves over are pinched in. I’m a fan of both slapstick and dialogue humor, but in this movie the tone just feels off. The way the jokes are delivered from the Beatles feel unnatural and forced They’re musicians, not actors, after all. This throws much of the intended humor from the dialogue itself off, and maybe it was supposed to be funny because of how they say their lines, but it didn’t work for me.

All in all, A Hard Day’s Night is okay. In terms of being a film based on a music album, I feel that 1975’s Tommy is superior, but I appreciate it by it not just trying to milk a popular subject and instead actually try to make a movie out of a band, and with a band as big as The Beatles, I’m glad that movie-wise, they did not sell out.

One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest – Review #54

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Jack Nicholson as a brash kinda-sorta jerk teetering on the cliff of insanity?

Perfect casting.

One Flew Over the Cuckoo's NestOne Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, directed by Miloš Forman, tells the story of R.P. McMurphy, a guy who gets transferred from a prison farm to a mental institution, because he ‘might’ have some issues. Because hey, why slave yourself in a work farm if you can pretend to be loony and stay at a much more relaxing environment? But what he thought was an uneventful but quiet stay at a mental institution with a… ‘colorful’ cast of characters quickly becomes a battle wits between him and a Nurse Ratched, the woman who runs the psychiatric ward with a twisted iron fist.

Now before I start, I want to admit that I had no idea that this was based on a novel, so any alterations this movie made from its source material will be lost to me. I’m not saying that it’s a bad thing, I just wanted to point that out.

I’m sure it’s no surprise that Jack Nicholson is known for playing the crazy guy in movies. It’s like the man himself embodies evil, or at the very least recklessness. From his strangely alluring wide grin to his eyebrows that follow the curvature of his eyes in a way so that they look like little devil horns when raised, he looks like a man possessed. And as the the main character McMurphy, Nicholson dazzles with his antics. Easily a contender for best performance from his long 6 decade career. There is never a dull scene with him. His rowdy demeanor and battle against the confines set by Nurse Ratched are all tense and amazing to witness.

But what’s a great main star without great co-stars? The other patients that the film focuses on give varied material for Nicholson to work with and all leave an imprint after the film ends. Examples include Brad Dourif as the young Billy Bibbit, Danny DeVito as the delusional Martini, and Christopher Lloyd in his acting debut as the belligerent Taber, 10 straight years before being known as the equally crazy but less foul-mouthed Doc Brown.

*insert alternate timeline Doc Brown joke here*

While the acting is phenomenal in all respects, it’s with the aid of the brilliant directing from Miloš Forman that this movie is known as one of the all American classics. The movie is shot in a way that it has a slow and steady pace, but occasionally stops and lets a scene or shot just go on, hitting you with its emotional gravitas. One moment you’re laughing at McMurphy’s wackiness, sucked into the scene by Nicholson’s performance, next thing you know, slap in the face by solemn reality and its consequences. It is Forman’s knack for those kinds of weight in this movie that makes it work, otherwise it would’ve just been Jack Nicholson doing random stuff. Not that that won’t be entertaining to watch, just not ‘Winner of 5 Academy Awards including Best Picture’ worthy.

Overall, One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest is a story of hope, freedom, and the principles of man and how we live. With its cast and directing, it has seemingly not aged a day. Definite recommendation.