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.

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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 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.

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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?

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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

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles


Viewed – 09 January 2015  DVD

I remember being quite heavily into these characters when I was a kid.  I especially liked the comics and the animated TV series.  However I don’t recall being that fussed by the movie and don’t even think I saw them all (were there three in total?).  Yet a friend recently recommended this reboot and so I thought I’d give it a go.

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Transformers’ Megan Fox plays plucky reporter April O’Neil who is hungry for a story that will further her career.  One night she stumbles upon the latest criminal activities of The Foot Clan just as they are stopped in their tracks by a mysterious vigilante.  Thinking this may be her chance April decides to track down the vigilante for herself in hopes of impressing her boss Whoopie Goldberg.

Coming from Michael Bay’s Platinum Dunes this feels and looks very much like Transformers, and that’s good or bad depending on your liking of that franchise (think garish high contrast cinematography and lots of things going boom).  Personally I loved the first one and this origin tale is perfectly entertaining and packed with well executed action and heaps of style.  The Turtles themselves are brilliantly realised, full of personality and although entirely CGI, it’s good CGI so that’s ok.  Fox also proves a little bit more than just eye candy even if her comedy sidekick / potential love interest pervs over her more than is strictly necessary.  Alas, the movie’s villains are very basic and not really all that interesting or particularly explored – they’re just evil and power hungry and their big plan is nothing even remotely new.  It’s also very predictable, in way too much of a rush to get to it’s conclusion and at times rather silly.

I enjoyed myself however and it’s difficult to get too bogged down with it’s cliches or redundant plotting when it all looks good and has enough one liners, site gags and quality action (with great use of slow-mo) to leave your brain happily on auto-pilot.

Verdict:  3 /5

The Man from U.N.C.L.E.


Viewed – 08 December 2015  Online rental

It’s not often a movie wows and disappoints in almost equal measure.  However this 60s set spy adaptation of the popular TV series of yesteryear did just that.  Director Guy Ritchie’s take on the spy genre is rich in an authentic 60s look and feel complete with impeccable editing, cinematography and imagery straight out of a cigarette commercial or a Jean-Luc Godard classic.  From the costumes, the cars, the gadgets and even the choices of music, the look of this movie is fantastic.  Almost any shot in this could be framed and hung on the wall of a high brow art critic’s home.

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However at it’s core is a fairly typical spy yarn that feels fairly dated and straight out of the setting the movie so richly explores … fitting, but a bit lacking ideas we haven’t seen in a ton of Bond movies or said TV show.  The bad guys are also rather bland, sadly.  Yet Ritchie picks from all his tried and tested directing skills: snappy, clever split-screen moments, some fun action sequences (bar a fairly annoying dune buggy chase) and plenty of well observed humour.  Man of Steel’s Henry Cavill steals the show as the swarve and brilliantly named Napoleon Solo; a CIA agent who is forced to team up with a KGB agent (Social Network’s equally likeable Armie Hammer).  Their pairing makes for much of the entertainment as the agents squabble, try and out wit one another and help a gorgeous French girl track down her bomb-making father who is working for a couple of terrorists.

Man-from-Uncle-Movie-Yet with such fun odd-couple banter and movie making flashiness comes a story that twists and double deals and confuses throughout (not helped by a ton of subtitles that again, are presented in a very stylish manner) … leaving this viewer often not entirely sure what was going on.  It all gets a lot clearer in the final moments but by then my head was spinning.  Seriously, this movie’s style actually distracted me from the plot, the characters and well, everything.  Call it style over substance if you like, but this stumbled when it really should have flown.  Sort of like a very attractive woman who blinds you from the fact she just lifted your wallet.  I admired it on a purely artistic scale, and was well cast mostly, but that doesn’t mean it completely won me over.

Verdict:  3.5 /5