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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An Apology to Shia Lebeouf

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In the very off chance that Mr. LaBeouf sees this, I have written something for you.

Dear Mr. LaBeouf,

You don’t know me and I don’t know you. What I DO know is that several years ago you were in a franchise that I loved dearly. You probably know which one. And I will freely admit that I was on your hate bandwagon for a while. Thinking back, I don’t even know why. I liked the films-I have the toys to prove that-, and I never found your character distracting. A bit boring, maybe, but never distracting.

Perhaps it was the influence of the masses, or perhaps I was a very impressionable young kid, who didn’t really appreciate the movies back then, but someway or another I started to dislike you. I know, hating someone based on their outward appearances and not for who they really are, pretty stupid, right? I probably should’ve have been more open-minded, but alas, I wasn’t, and your random bouts of social experimentation didn’t really help that either.

When I first heard the news of you doing this #allmymovies thing, I wasn’t surprised. You were known as the ‘just-do-it’ guy, a freaking joke, and I wasn’t going to take you seriously right then and now. In fact, I didn’t even really participate in your experiment. I popped into the website, saw your face for a few seconds, and then closed the tab. I didn’t know what you movie you were watching then, and frankly, I couldn’t care less about you watching movies for 3 days straight.

But you know what? After reading about your event on various news-sites, and watching some pictures, I found something in you that I didn’t know you had. Humanity. You watching your own films, laughing, cringing, crying, basically showing emotion, is what opened my eyes. Like I said, nobody took you seriously, including me. Some people still don’t. Your most famous films ‘shat’ on beloved franchises from people’s childhoods, and you took the blunt of the hate because you were one of the main stars in them. It was easy to hate you, so people did. You were a punching bag. But now, as weird as it sounds, you look more ‘human’ to me. You aren’t a punching bag, you’re a person with feelings and needs and desires. It’s not your fault you got it bad, you just had a string of bad luck.

And so, on behalf of my young stupid self, I would like to apologize to you, Mr. Labeouf. I judged a metaphorical book by its cover and am only now realizing my fault, because in all honesty, you look like a pretty cool guy. I would probably share a beer with you if I could. I’m sorry for ever hating you based on bias, and while I have no idea what you are going to do next, I hope that it works out for you in the end. By God you deserve at least some positive things said about you.

Spectre – Review #52

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Good God the opening shot felt so good. No, not the tracking shot, the one before that. That shot.

SpectreSpectre, directed by Sam Mendes, is the 24th official film in the James Bond franchise. Daniel Craig once again plays Bond, this time doing a more personal assignment in Mexico. When things get out of hand, and by out of hand I mean demolished a building, Bond is grounded by M. And speaking of M, he’s having a power struggle with C, the head of the new Joint Intelligence Service. The JIS is planning to make an agreement between nine countries called the ‘Nine Eyes’ agreement, which would render the ’00’ section of the MI6 useless. So you can see why M doesn’t want that. Bond, disobeying M’s orders, travels to Rome. I won’t spoil much else, because frankly, the storyline’s way too thick to describe quickly in one paragraph.

This movie, being the 4th Bond movie in the Craig-era, and following after the great Skyfall, has a lot to live up to. Is it better than Skyfall? Well, it depends on how you want your Bond. Skyfall was a grittier Bond film, with the movie having more focus on the issues with the characters. It’s not that there’s no wit and charm, it’s just that it’s severely under-played to fit the darker story, if I recall correctly. Spectre, on the other hand, is a more traditional Bond film, just with a darker coating. It’s Goldfinger wearing Casino Royale, and it wears it pretty well for the most part. Hearing ‘gritty grunty’ Daniel Craig Bond say flirty one-liners can be pretty strange, but you get used to it. Heck it even has some of the more ‘out there’ cliches concerning Bond films. Car with numerous gadgets and gizmos? Check. An near unstoppable mini-boss for Bond and Bond girl to defeat? Batista says hello. Outrageous villain with a love for domestic animals? All hail Christoph Waltz. While the cliches themselves are nonsensical if you think about it too much, director Sam Mendes is able to downplay it not too much as to become boring, but not too little as to retain its goofiness.

Speaking of Sam Mendes, this is his second Bond film, and it is one of the best Bond films I’ve ever seen, from a visual standpoint. Then again, I’ve only watched 4 Bond films, including this one, but I digress. This movie is the freaking dictionary definition of the word ‘slick’. Everything about it is just…slick. The way the camera ‘glides’ with its shot setting, the yellow hues from the lighting, all of it just works. It looks like those car commercials you see with a night time setting and a very expensive car. Imagine that, but with James Bond.

The cast is still great as always. Daniel Craig is again great as Bond. He’s still the grittier Bond that we see from Casino Royale onwards, but this time his humor is amped up just a bit. Ben Whishaw is Q, the gadget guy and the source of most of the comic relief. His chemistry with Craig is great, with them exchanging witty dialogue when they meet every time. Ralph Fiennes is the new M, following the great Judi Dench, and while I’m sure he’ll grow into the role with subsequent films, here he’s a bit vanilla. Léa Seydoux is Madeleine, our resident Bond girl for the movie. She’s one of the few Bond girls I remember that actually helps Bond when he gets in a kerfuffle, and I really hope that the relationship that they have doesn’t end à la On Her Majesty’s Secret Service. My poor heart-and Bond’s- will break. Dave Bautista is our Oddjob, and yeah, I can buy that he’s this grizzly bear of a man. Nothing else to add. Christoph Waltz is our main villain Blofeld, and good God does he eat every scene he’s in, all 3 of them. Yes, people have criticized the movie in that Blofeld isn’t in it much, but I think that’s a good thing. Yes. he’s only in 3 scenes, or set pieces to be more precise, but those scenes are long enough for him to establish himself, and not too long for him to out-stay his welcome. Who DOES out-stay his welcome though is Andrew Scott as C. It’s less about the actor and more about the part, really, although his acting in this does feel like he’s rehashing Moriarty. His character’s entire sub-plot felt rushed, and you could see the ‘twist’ from a mile away. Overall though, the cast is well rounded.

And before I conclude, special mention goes to Thomas Newman for the music throughout the movie. I don’t have much to say about him, just wanted to compliment his work. The strings that accompany most of the movie’s sound just fit. Oh, and Sam Smith sang a song I think whatever.

All in all, Spectre is like Goldfinger remade with the stylings of today. Grit with cheese, dirt with sprinkles. This might turn some people away as it deviates slightly from the much more serious Craig-era Bond films like Casino Royale and Quantum of Solace, but I personally really liked it. Maybe if the script was re-worked a bit more, it may have been better, but I still enjoyed what I got.

So I guess I should watch Casino Royale now to ease the wrath of Bond fans.

The Martian – Review #47

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Why didn’t they use ‘Stayin’ Alive’?

The MartianThe Martian, directed by Sir Ridley Scott, is the film adaptation of the best-selling book from Andy Weir. Mark Watney is part of a 6 man crew of the Ares III, a manned Mars mission. When a freak storm occurs, they are forced to abort the mission and go back to their ship, the Hermes. However, when Mark is hit by flying debris, he is presumed dead and left behind. He is of course, not dead and finds himself stranded on the Red Planet. And so, with limited supplies, he must find a way to communicate with NASA, grow more food, and in general a way to escape from Mars.

As I’ve said, the movie is based on the novel of the same name from Andy Weir. The book is not your usual standard sci-fi fare. Aliens are nowhere in sight. This is hard, down-to-earth science. Usually something like ‘if I x reacts with y it’ll make z, but I don’t want z, so I’ll heat x and let that react with y, which in turn will make a. But to heat x, I’ll need to bla bla bla…’ gets looked over in sci-fi, or at least not went into detail. The novel, however, relishes in that science explanation. We want to know how to heat x. That type of story-telling of course can be considered boring to some people, and while I can see why, I personally am a sucker for these things. I deliberately bought the book and read it within a month to prep myself for the movie. And as I was reading it, I was kinda skeptical about how the film would turn out. Sciency-talk movies don’t really have a wide appeal, and to make that interesting for 2 and a half hours? Props to the screenwriter Drew Goddard and Ridley Scott for making 2 and a half hours worth of science engaging as all hell.

It’s a shame that I couldn’t watch this in IMAX, because oh my god Mars is so beautiful to look at. Sweeping shots of the desolate planet and just the overall…red of it makes it so eye-warming. And when it’s not flying around Mars, the camera is hand-held, getting down and dirty with Mark Watney and the people at NASA trying to help him. Ridley Scott really has a great eye for visuals. But then,what did you expect from the guy who made Alien?

The cast is impeccable. Matt Damon is a great Mark Watney, being able to be humorous and sarcastic, but still know when to shut up and think. The people in NASA who try to bring Watney, from Jeff Daniels to Donald ‘Childish Gambino’ Glover are all great, the crew of the Ares III, played by Jessica Chastain, Michael Peña, Kate Mara, Sebastian Stan and Aksel Hennie, while having less screen time than Watney or the NASA people, still do a good job. I have no problems with the cast at all.

If I have anything bad to say about The Martian, it’s that I wished there was more sciency-talk. What I got was a more than substantial amount, and I’m very happy with I have, but I just want more. Even if it extends the movie to Satantango length, I would still watch it. Besides that, I have no negativity about The Martian to say.

Overall, The Martian is a masterpiece in science fiction, even-though the fiction isn’t as far-fetched as other movies. Definite recommendation, and a must watch on IMAX. Also, according to my fellow friends, one of Ridley Scott’s best in quite a while.

Noise – Review #39

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Very nice taste in music, Anthony. Very nice.

dmZzZgH1IDffJVOvF3YtIAanUzbNoise, directed by Anthony Le, is a short film that analyzes and shows the world of hip-hop and it’s artists, and why they do what they do.

Now, the world of hip-hop has been generally viewed like this:

‘Money! Hoes! Money! Hoes! Ni**a ni**a what?!’

Now, obviously this isn’t the case for all of hip-hop, and Noise sets itself to prove that. While songs similar to the above made up line do exist, and there are rappers that simply revolve around those principles, most of the beloved hip-hop alumni- Kendrick Lamar, Tupac, Childish Gambino, use hip-hop to express themselves and their history, and to send out messages to their fans. For example, this song. A personal favorite of mine.

The way that the short gives its message is through various sound-clips of rappers giving interviews while the words are displayed with different cuts and styles, with images connected to what is being said in the background. This combination of fast cuts and fluttering text gives the overall message and what is being said a much bigger impact, although caution is advised for people who are prone to epilepsies.

Overall, Noise is undoubtedly Anthony’s best work. While Routine was indeed very good, Noise just eclipses it with its much more engaging visuals. Another film well made, Anthony.

Routine – Review #38

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Man, you have a lot of pets, Anthony.

282598-routine-0-230-0-345-cropRoutine, directed by Letterboxd’s own Anthony Le, is a short film with no plot, or to be more specific, no three-act structure. It proposes the question of the clockwork of life, and why routines just seem to happen.

Shot with a budget of exactly $0, Routine is a minimalist short. The scale is limited to a house, and the various ways that Routineexpresses itself is through various assortments of domestic animals and household appliances. Using these examples are really clever, as there are few things as universal as household pets, and so allows the short to express itself in the broadest way possible. The use of black and white and time-lapses also helps in its presentation of giving this unbiased look of life.

So, yeah, Routine is a very well made short discussing the sequences that life goes through. There’s not much else to speak about it. I recommend it to anyone who wants to watch something avant-garde in a short time.

Mission Impossible: Rogue Nation – Review #37

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Somewhere between A Few Good Men and Collateral Tom Cruise found the Fountain of Youth, I’m sure of it.

MV5BMTQ1NDI2MzU2MF5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTgwNTExNTU5NDE@._V1_SX640_SY720_Mission Impossible: Rogue Nation, directed by Christopher McQuarrie, is the fifth film in the Mission Impossible franchise. It stars the always photogenic Tom Cruise, Jeremy Renner, Simon Pegg, Ving Rhames and Rebecca Ferguson. Ethan Hunt is on the trail of finding The Syndicate, an international crime organization. However, he has been ambushed, and even worse, the organization he works for, the IMF, has been shut down. With the help of his closest colleagues and a mysterious woman named Ilsa, Hunt must find and stop the leader of The Syndicate, before they can cause even more destruction.

I went into Rogue Nation with relatively high expectations. Ghost Protocol had great action scenes and performances, and the buzz of Tom Cruise doing his own stunts, while nothing new, still increased my hype for this movie. Oh, and the trailer was pretty good to. And so, I am quite glad to say that Rogue Nation held up to my expectations, giving both intense action and bone-chilling suspense, while also providing a bit of humor.

Say what you want about Tom Cruise, you have to admit that he is a very good actor. His fifth portrayal of Ethan Hunt is one of magnificence. The rest of the IMF too gets their time to shine. Jeremy Renner and Ving Rhames are great, serving as the movie’s comic reliefs, although they don’t do just that. Simon Pegg is funny as always, although that Halo 5 joke was a bit out of nowhere. Alec Baldwin is the director of the CIA, and he does well too. And then there’s Rebecca Ferguson. Oh boy, Rebecca Ferguson. With her and Charlize Theron in Mad Max: Fury Road, this has been a great year for female heroes, the likes of which I haven’t seen since Linda Hamilton in T2. And how long was that ago?

Rogue Nation takes place in various locations and set pieces, and the director, Christopher McQuarrie, makes great use of what he is given. Each set piece allows the action to give its own flair. One scene in particular is set at an opera house while Turandot is being performed. If Turandot sounds slightly familiar, it’s probably because of this song in particular. In fact, the song’s music sheet plays a vital part of the movie. The less you know about it though, the better.

However, because of it’s set piece to set piece flow, the film might feel a bit strangely paced. And besides that, I can’t really say the villain was a strong one. Sean Harris as the leader of the Syndicate gives a good performance, but his voice…it didn’t work for me. His Vito Corleone-esque raspy tone didn’t show this brilliant evil genius, it showed a man who had a sore throat. Luckily he doesn’t say much.

All in all, Mission Impossible: Rogue Nation is one part action extravaganza, one part spy thriller, one part Rebecca Ferguson’s Oscar nomination, and all parts a great movie. Watch it at the cinema while you still can.