Sicario


Viewed – 02 February 2016 Online-rental

I had heard some good buzz surrounding this gritty thriller set in the drug underworld of the Mexican Cartels, so was quite hyped up to sit down to it finally.  Emily Blunt (Edge of Tomorrow, Looper) plays an F.B.I. agent who attracts the attention of a team of government agents when she stumbles upon a crime scene associated with the Mexican drug barons.  Given the opportunity to join a top secret mission into Mexico, she at first thinks this is a chance to further her career, until eventually she starts to realize maybe what she’s involved in may not be strictly by the book.

SICARIO Day 01

Skilfully shot and with a very authentic feel, this thriller was packed full of tension and drew me in easily with echoes of Stephen Soderberg hit ‘Traffic’ as well as aspects of cult TV series Breaking Bad.  However with an emphasis on secret operations and misleading information, especially from the point of view of Blunt’s character I’ll admit I found this confusing for a good portion of the run time.  The subject is nothing particularly new and doesn’t really go anywhere all that surprising, but with added support of a cool and mysterious Benicio Del Toro and the always enjoyable Josh Brolin … this at least had some solid performances to help me through a convoluted narrative.  Blunt is especially good in an emotional role that cements her reputation as one of the more interesting British actresses around.  I’d have really likbenicioed more action to offset the tension as it’s a movie where I was expecting something to kick off any second.  Tense moments such as a claustrophobic tunnel scene and a drawn out freeway journey certainly added to such expectations.  Yet much is left until the closing moments, which by then I was feeling more frustrated than entertained.

The movie however pulls no punches as far as showing the shocking lengths these drug dealers will go to, but with several confusing characters (not helped by similar Mexican names) and a pace that rushed through important plot details … this, although intriguing could have been so much better.

Verdict: 3 /5

The Division beta – impressions


One of the most hyped games for this year has to be Tom Clancy’s The Division, an open-world MMORPG set in a locked down New York after a pandemic outbreak.  I got access to the beta of the game over the weekend after pre-ordering, and I must admit it’s very good indeed.  I haven’t actually managed to partake in some of the much talked about co-op gameplay or the PVP dark zone sections, but just exploring the disaster-stricken New York streets, taking on scavenger gangs and completing side missions as well as the beta’s main mission … has been a lot of fun.

Division beta 1

screenshot captured directly from my PS4

Visually the game has had a bit of a downgrade since the initial E3 reveal but that was to be expected considering the game was first shown before the Xbox One and PS4 were even released.  But with that in mind, how do the visuals stack up in this near-finished version?  Very good indeed actually.  There are a ton of effects at work, impressive weather such as wind & snow considering the game is set at Christmas, and a wealth of detail on buildings, the road, and cars (yes you can still close that car door, folks!).  The lighting is very atmospheric and with what appears to be a dynamic weather and day / night cycle the game shows off it’s true beauty the more you play it.

division beta 2

screenshot captured directly from my PS4

Gameplay-wise (with similarities to Destiny) you create your character (well, their face and gender but I didn’t do much with this aspect when first booting up the game), and then are introduced to the world, following the storyline of an agent flown into the crisis and having to make his (or her) way to the base of operation – a hub environment that you enhance and develop as you go on missions and complete tasks.  It’s a good idea and one that will mean there’s more than just a develop character / stats excuse to keep on playing.  I wonder if this is the only base of operation or if there will be others in different areas the player can develop?  The core shooting feels good too, with an excellent cover-based mechanic that enables the player to run to various areas of cover very easily, making for some exciting encounters.  The character / NPC designs are very detailed and slickly animated making this game feel very next-gen overall.  I think it will be a game that could become quite addictive also as more missions become available and various quests are discovered.  The enemy characters at this stage seem quite samey (all violent hoodies it seems) but that could change once the game is out and we could get boss fights.  It’s too early to be sure though.

For now The Division is looking to be a solid game to invest a ton of time in so I can’t wait till March 8th!

The Revenant


Viewed – 28 January 2016  Cinema

Director Alejandro González Iñárritu is quickly becoming one of my favorite film makers, and I can’t say I’ve yet seen a movie that hasn’t impressed me in some way.  After all his last effort, Birdman was my movie of the year for 2015.  So him teaming up with one of my favorite actors, namely Leonardo DiCaprio seemed a marriage made in heaven.

the-revenant

DiCaprio plays frontiersman Hugh Glass who whilst out with a group of men to gather supplies and food for their village, is attacked by a Grizzly bear and almost killed.  Despite his comrades choosing to help and carry him back home, the journey proves too tough so Tom Hardy’s conflicted frontiersman and Glass’s half Indian son along with another of the men choose to stay behind and find a less treacherous way around a mountain to get back home.  Only problem is Hardy is only out for himself and double crosses Glass, abandoning him.  Glass then has to survive against the odds to find a way back home in a harsh and unforgiving wilderness.

Superlatively filmed with no end of eye-catching skill by Iñárritu this is gritty and powerful movie making that leaves little to the imagination.  DiCaprio gives more a truly physical performance than a typical acting one and has only smatterings of dialogue throughout.  Yet he is convincing as hell as he faces off against the elements; stampeding buffalo, hostile Indian tribes and nature itself whilst tending to wounds that would normally kill the average man.  I was thoroughly gripped by Glass’s plight and even though his journey is long and ponders life, death, love and family among all the survival stuff, I wasn’t bored.  However, the gruelling tone felt hard going and it gets fairly gory in places, meaning some scenes were quite unsettling.  It’s also rather vague with the details, whose who, when the story is actually set etc.  Yet as Glass faces one problem after the other, the drawn out sequences and almost dream-like feel seemed necessary to get the full effect.  Hardy is also good despite a difficult to understand accent, but his character was probably one of the more interesting he’s taken on for a while.  However above all else I’d call this Iñárritu’s show – his eye for breathtaking imagery, stunning cinematography and amazing detail even made such things as running water look gorgeous – and boy can he film a battle sequence!

It’s not a movie to expect it’s point to be reached all that quickly.  It’s also quite unconventional as far as it’s performances go.  Yet it’s a story that needs to slowly unravel and linger on things, which granted won’t be for everyone.  But if you want real film making with meaning, then you need to see this.

Verdict:  4 /5

Legend


Viewed – 26 January 2016  Blu-ray

I loved the 1990 British biopic of The Krays starring former Spandau Ballet brothers Gary & Martin Kemp which for me had long been one of the best gangster movies I had seen.  However I haven’t seen that rendition in a long time so the prospect of a new adaptation of the famed East End mobsters’ story was exciting.  Also the fact current hot property Tom Hardy (Mad Max Fury Road) was taking on the roles of both Ronnie & Reggie Kray meant this couldn’t fail … or could it?

legend

Set during the height of the gangster’s reign over the criminal underworld in the 1960s, Reggie and his rather unstable brother Ronnie have London eating out of their hands; rubbing shoulders with celebrities, owning nightclubs and about to go into business with the Italian Mafia.  Told primarily from the perspective of Reggie’s wife Francis (Emily Browning – who somehow still has a career after the god-awful Sleeping Beauty) this promises to be another mob classic to stand alongside movies such as Goodfellas.  Yet in the hands of director Brian Helgeland (A Knight’s Tale), we get anything but that.  His direction is plodding despite decent production value and eye-catching photography, but for a mob movie there is a total lack of menace.  I didn’t feel like these people were all that intimidating or scary, and in a decent gangster yarn, I’m usually always a bit nervy of something kicking off any second.  This is not helped by the focus on Reggie & Francis’ relationship where the casting of the porcelain pretty Emily Browning once again proves her as one of the most uninteresting actresses currently working, not helped by her snore-inducing narration.  This needed much more of the criminal lifestyle and the enforcing of that lifestyle … yet mob hits come out of nowhere, and famous murders just happen with no build up.  Trying his damndest is Tom Hardy but although charismatic as Reggie, his apparent control and intimidation of Francis is bizarrely glossed over, making a certain turn of events later on come out of nowhere.  On the flip side his portrayal of Ronnie is borderline farcical, the legendary gangland mobster reduced to an absurd caricature rather than particularly threatening (the trumpet blowing scene almost had me giggling in embarrassment).

So the tone and pacing and everything other than the look was totally off, and important characters to the Kray’s story such as their mother or infamous names like Jack ‘the hat’ McVittie are little more than ‘just there’ when their inclusion could have helped with the movie’s authenticity (which has to be said, it takes liberties with).  The Krays were fascinating and pretty scary in real life by all accounts – but this interpretation failed to capture hardly any of what made them famous or ironically, legends.

Verdict:  2 /5

Dazed and Confused


Viewed – 25 January 2015  Blu-ray

Dazed BluThis for a long time has been my go-to movie to just chill out and relax with.  Something about this 70’s set high school comedy-drama just feels very comfortable.  I’ll put this on occasionally because hell, I enjoy being in the company of these characters probably more than any movie I can think of.

Set on the last day of school this follows the (mis)adventures of various school kids as they go to parties, hang out, drive around, cause a bit of mischief, contemplate their futures and learn a little bit about themselves along the way.  You could say the main character is a freshman called Mitch (Wiley Wiggens) who is one of several targets for drop out thug O’Bannion (a before he was famous Ben Affleck) who likes to spank these kids with a softball bat as some sort of ‘initiation’.  Mitch gets into various encounters and we follow his story but at the same time we have quarterback ‘Pink’ who’s trying to figure out if he’s going to stay on in the college football team, and along the way we meet several other fascinating and interesting personalities like super-sleazy but super-cool Matthew McConaughey and a stoner hippy chick Mila Jovavich.

Dazed

I think there is a character in this movie for anyone to relate to, someone was one of these characters when they were at school – were you the cool guy the girls all looked at, or the geeky kid that just wanted to fit in, or someone in-between?  That’s the magic of this and add Richard Linklater’s assured, very authentic and (clearly in love with the subject matter) direction, mixed with a soundtrack to die for (Ozzy, Deep Purple, Cooper…they’re all here) … and I think this is one of the best high school movies ever made – if not THE best high school movie ever made.

Dazed MitchThe Blu-ray that I imported from the U.S. may not be the bells-and-whistles Criterion release (I reviewed the Criterion DVD release HERE).  Yet this Universal edition boasts a picture full of fine detail even if the colours lack a little vibrancy (but seem to suit the 70’s look and feel).  However the big showpiece here is the soundtrack with clear dialogue, decent use of surrounds and most importantly the iconic music given major, thumping treatment to really show off your speakers (has Alice Cooper’s School’s Out ever sounded better?).  Extras are rather limp however with no commentary and little more than deleted scenes and a music feature that you can bring up with Universal’s U-Play mode.  Very disappointing for a movie that that for me, is a stone cold classic.

Verdict:

(the movie)  5 /5

(the Blu-ray)  3.5 /5