Review: Sicario

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DIR: Denis Villeneuve • WRI: Taylor Sheridan • PRO: Basil Iwanyk, Erica Lee, Thad Luckinbill, Trent Luckinbill, Edward McDonnell, Molly Smith • DOP: Roger Deakins • ED: Joe Walker • DES: Patrice Vermette • MUS: Jóhann Jóhannsson • CAST: Emily Blunt, Josh Brolin, Benicio Del Toro, Jon Bernthal

 

After Prisoners, Enemy and the Oscar-nominated Incendies, Sicario seems to only confirm Denis Villeneuve’s rightful place in the pantheon of cinematic masters, and proving himself a powerful voice, not to be trifled with. Villeneuve takes you right through the belly of the beast, straight into visceral and cerebral uncharted territory.

Hair tied back in a tight bun, clad in black and navy uniform, and buried under body armour is Kate Maser. Assault rifle in hand. Fearless, stealthy, agile. Her eyes docile as she raises the barrel and aims, straight up in for the head shot. However, underneath the militant Kevlar hide there’s a distinct vulnerability to Maser (Emily Blunt). Through Maser, we’re ingratiated into the front lines of the US war on drugs. Tiptoeing her way down pitch-black tunnels and kicking down doors in the dead of night. Pure subjective psychological horror. Tonally it’s some mind-altering cocktail of Silence of the Lambs mixed with The Shining. And like those movies, Sicario, from the get-go, racks the tension high, unfolding by means of hypnotic slow release.

Anyway, after Maser’s involvement in a major FBI drugs operation in Arizona where a mass of bodies are discovered. She’s eyed for specialist assistance on a Department of Defence retaliatory initiative. A sorta high-end crackdown on cartels. Maser shows some hesitance, but when assured that she’s going to get a crack at the “ men who are really responsible for today.” she signs up, game for blood.

But it’s a labyrinth of agendas and motives, and Maser’s caught in the middle. It quickly becomes apparent that it’s some kind of smoke and mirror, cloak and dagger clandestine military operation. The kind where the legality of the whole thing is shady at best. Crossing the Mexican border into the dusty wilds of Juarez, to essentially kidnap a local drug lord, all in a bid to reveal the location of an arch Drug Lord. And Juarez is like a jungle of skeletal remains. Pure carnage. A world that’s built on a foundation of brutal violence. A living breathing hell incarnate. And from here on out the smoky morality of Masers world only gets murkier as the hunt continues.

Villeneuve expects nothing less of his battalions of thespians than to charge into cinematic battle, and to get down and dirty. Hand to hand combat is a mandatory requirement. Josh Brolin is the sandal wearing, seemingly blasé laissez-faire, Matt Graver, who’s allegedly DOD but who could be CIA? It’s never really clear to Maser. And then there’s Alejandro, (Benico del Toro) Graver’s Trojan wingman who’s shrouded in the same veils of mystery. Del Toro gives a demonic counter-point to his memorable turn in Traffic. And Villeneuve’s camera coils and recoils like a killer snake, slow and steady, spitting and biting. Fangs out; sharpened to a T. All in all making for venomous cinema.

Roger Deakins’ intoxicating cinematography has a sense of subtlety and minimalism that offers a heightened sense of tension and atmosphere that’s tough to argue with. Less is more, proving to be a motto to live by, especially when it’s executed this well. The vast isolated landscapes seemingly ensnare the characters in a world bigger than themselves. There’s a stylistic debt to Melville, Deakins admits as much, but truth be told it’s its own beast. Johan Johannsson’s score is nothing short of malevolent. Orchestral strings clash against electronic drones and waves, drum machines whip and snap against arid vistas; all too suffocating effect.

And when the dust settles, and the streets are lined with hanging corpses Villeneuve puts it to you. There’s blood on our hands, and if that’s what it takes can we live with that? Living in a world where the only code seems to be an Eye for an Eye, a Tooth for a Tooth? Or is there another way? At its core Sicario is essentially an anti-war movie. Villeneuve reinvigorates these questions wholeheartedly. He’s got the rat by the tail and won’t let go. He pinches, till nerves scream and eyes bulge. How are the sides drawn, or, are there even sides at all? Villenueve serves the head, the plate, the whole damn thing, a lean delicacy of pure moral ambiguity. The lines between right and wrong are most definitely blurred.

Turning the screws just isn’t enough for this fecker (Villeneuve), he wants to put the nail through the coffin, splinters and all. Even if you resent the method, there’s little you can do about it, the man’s not to be messed with; he’s a cinematic powerhouse. The rare kind of filmmaker who paralyses audiences and glues eyeballs to screens; leaving a distinct taste of truth.

Michael Lee


15A (See IFCO for details)

121 minutes
Sicario is released 9th October 2015

Sicario – Official Website

 

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Into the Woods

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DIR: Penny Marshall • WRI: James Lapine • PRO: John DeLuca, Rob Marshall, Callum McDougall, Marc Platt • DOP: Dion Beebe • ED: Wyatt Smith • DES: Dennis Gassner • MUS: Stephen Sondheim • CAST: Anna Kendrick, Meryl Streep, Chris Pine, Emily Blunt

To be perfectly honest (and in the name of laying out all personal biases before we start), this movie had two strikes against it before the lights even went down. One, it was a musical and two, it featured James Corden in a leading role (the third strike came when it started and it turned out he was also the narrator). So it came as quite a shock when it turned out that this is probably the most pleasantly surprising movie to emerge since The LEGO Movie and for a lot of the same reasons. Being won over by a musical isn’t completely out of the realm of possibility but a film making James Corden not only tolerable but bordering on likeable? That’s nothing short of divine intervention…

In keeping with Disney’s recent output, Into the Woods is another revisionist fairy tale. This time the twist is that several different fairy tales are happening simultaneously with an overarching story that features a baker (Corden) and his wife (Blunt) trying to collect four items for a witch (Streep) so that she’ll remove a curse that’s making it impossible for them to conceive. The items are, naturally, each from the various fairy tales; Red Riding Hood’s (Crawford) cape, Cinderella’s (Kendrick) slipper, the cow Jack (Huttlestone) is taking to market and Rapunzel’s (Mauzy) hair. As each of the various characters end up passing through the titular woods, the baker and his wife spend their time frantically running around trying to find the items while each of the other characters try to go through the motions of their respective stories despite the interruptions. There is singing, there are cameos and sprinkled liberally throughout is healthy dose of sardonic humour and a surprising amount of casual violence.

It’s hard to think of any movie in recent memory that wants so badly for you to be simultaneously laughing *at* and *with* it. The overall look is in keeping with a lot of revisionist fairy tales (a slightly hyper-real but ultimately authentic-looking fantasy setting) while the dialogue is made up largely of jokes poking fun at the ridiculous conventions of the very story it’s trying to tell. And in that particular area, this is Emily Blunt’s movie. Not only does she get most of the best lines and moments but in a film filled with good (and genuinely funny) performances, her particular style of acting preposterously casual in situations that warrant the opposite, or bordering on a barely subdued mania make her an absolute joy to watch. The rest of the cast are also pretty good by and large. Corden is, as mentioned earlier, tolerable, Kendrick is her ever likeable self, the child actors are surprisingly funny and Meryl Streep is… mixed. There are moments where she Meryl Streeps like she’s never Meryl Streep-ed before while for most of it, she’s merely there and then, when she finally seems to be coming into her own, the film unceremoniously drops her just when it needs a performance like hers to keep things going. Depp on the other hand…

In some ways Depp personifies everything that’s right with the movie even though he himself is a bit off. He plays the wolf in the Red Riding Hood portion and couldn’t be characterised as more of a sexual predator if he had the very words tattooed across his forehead. Dressed like what an especially trippy Japanese anime might design a caricature of a seventies pimp to look like, complete with whiskers and tail but otherwise human, he’s just downright creepy in his vocal and physical mannerisms. As I said, he typifies the movie as the rest of the film is relentless in flitting schizophrenically between high camp (Pine and Magnussen’s number where they try to have a Handsome Prince-off being a possible high point) and acknowledging the creepier, darker undertones of the stories these fairy tales are based on. If you’re wondering why this got a 12s rating, it’s for that second one. There is a lot of hilariously brutal violence in this movie, largely off-screen, but still played for laughs. And it’s wonderful.

If there’s a major issue it’s that the songs aren’t particularly memorable. They’re fine. They’re all very well produced and performed but none of them stick in your brain for even a second after they’ve finished. On top of this, the film is too long. It seems to reach a natural endpoint around ninety minutes in but then decides to turn into Disney’s Attack on Titan: The Musical for the last half an hour. Now, while the additional running time eventually justifies itself narratively in that, rather than wrapping up absurdly neatly, the whole thing ends in a bit more muddled but much more satisfying way; from a pure momentum point of view, the film really struggles to keep going after the “traditional” ending is reached and passed by. There’s a great one-hundred-minute movie in here somewhere but the two-hour film we’ve been given is ultimately just shy of being something approaching a minor classic. It is, however, nice to see a Disney film that eschews the usual good and evil dynamic and instead advocates a much more morally relativistic tone and ending.

In the end then, this is a bit of a no-brainer. Much like a film such as Airplane!, this is one of those movies where despite it being as precision-tuned as an atomic clock, it still manages to feel so effortless in its own anarchy that it almost feels like improv. If you liked The LEGO Movie and its specific sense of humour, you’ll enjoy this. Or to put it another way, Into the Woods is to Disney movies what 21 Jump Street was to buddy-cop, action movies.

Richard Drumm

PG (See IFCO for details)
124 minutes.
Into the Woods is released 9th January 2015.

Into the Woods – Official Website

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Cinema Review: Looper

snooker looper

DIR/WRI: Rian Johnson  PRO: Ram Bergman, James D. Stern   DOP: Steve Yedlin  ED: Bob Ducsay Cast: Bruce Willis, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Emily Blunt, Paul Dano, Piper Perabo, Jeff Daniels

We are long overdue a great time travel adventure. Sure, we’ve had dramas such as Midnight in Paris and mind-bending thrillers such as Primer, but there hasn’t been a proper edge-of-your-seat time travel movie since 12 Monkeys, nor a fun one since the Back to the Future trilogy.

Thank goodness for Looper. Clever without being baffling, fun without being silly, Rian Johnson’s film balances its own mythology with a pulp thriller story that feels simultaneously classical and entirely new. Johnson, the writer/director of cult high school noir Brick and the seen-by-few (and liked by fewer) The Brother’s Bloom, is a film fan’s filmmaker, a man who has imbibed the Hollywood genre greats, and who now pours those ideas through the blender of his brain and creates some fascinating, if hitherto not entirely successful chimaeras. Looper’s influences are evident and many, and surprisingly none of them are films about time travel.

Starting off 30 years from now in Kansas City, Looper is set in an America wracked with colossal rates of unemployment and homelessness, but where the well-to-do dress like guest stars on Mad Men. A comment on the trajectory of modern America, sure, but that’s where the social commentary ends. Another 30 years down the road, in 2072, time travel technology has been developed, but only for use by the wealthiest and most duplicitous of people. Rather than risk a Back to the Future-style paradox, the global mob of 2072 uses time travel for the sole purpose of disposing of corpses – easily tracked in the future, easily gotten rid of in the past.

In 2042, mob goons called loopers are assigned the task of gunning down newly materialised mob targets the moment they appear from 2072. It’s good work if you can get it, but it comes at a high price. Looper Joe (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) is happy with his lot; splashing his cash on cars, drugs and a prostitute with a heart of gold. But things get thrown for a loop for him (sorry) when his latest target is revealed to be himself, 30-years-older, and now looking like Bruce Willis. Willis knocks his young self out and goes on the run, set on a mission to alter the future, while Gordon-Levitt must track down his older, wilier self while evading his own bosses at looper HQ, who can instantly take out the elusive Willis by killing Gordon-Levitt, thereby erasing Willis from the timeline.

Ostensibly a chase movie through a neo noir future, Looper keeps its story energised by keeping the time travel repercussions as simple as possible. As long as Willis is still there, he knows Gordon-Levitt will grow up to be him. As Gordon-Levitt acquires fresh cuts and injuries, Willis develops brand new, decades-old scars.

Looper is as smart in its dialogue as it is in its ideas. Gordon-Levitt and Willis spar over their shared memories in the film’s most cleverly crafted scene. Looper boss Abe (a delightfully sneering Jeff Daniels) chastises his young employees for dressing in suits and ties, an out-dated fashion now brought back by the Mod-like gangsters – fashion has a cyclical nature, underscoring the film’s central theme. Language, too, has come full circle; the word ‘blunderbuss’ has been uprooted from the history books to refer to the loopers’ heavy-duty shotguns.

Johnson’s team have crafted a terrific thriller here, with crisp, bright imagery and coherent editing. The score hums and clicks with electronic, industrial sounds overlaying traditional instruments. Gordon-Levitt, belatedly (by a decade) the in-demand actor of the hour, is tough yet endearing in the lead role, and the fine makeup that makes him a believable antecedent to Bruce Willis (most notably wearing Willis’ curling nose) never distracts from his performance. Willis plays the weary, broken-hearted avenger he’s based the last decade of his career on with expected fluency. Only Johnson regular Noah Segan disappoints, in the underdeveloped role of token villain Kid Blue.

The film’s seemingly boundless energy comes to a crashing halt in the third act as Willis heads off on his mission and Gordon-Levitt hides out at the rural home of Emily Blunt’s suspicious Sara. The rhythm of the film goes all to hell for nearly 20 minutes, and the temptation to, like the characters in the movie, repeatedly glimpse at your watch is hard to resist. But this is all forgiven in a shocking, brilliantly conceived final quarter hour, that is as exciting as it is philosophical.

Aside from that late lull, the film’s most troubling aspect is its narration, lazily used to explain its mythology and technology, and it’s left unclear from where or when (or on what timeline) Gordon-Levitt is narrating. But Looper succeeds in making its world easily accessible, and more impressively manages to make its two anti-heroes – one a junkie out to kill his future self, the other so hell-bent on vengeance he will stop at nothing to do what he insists is right – likeable and worthy of our attention.

With echoes to films as eclectic as Witness and Akira and with a finale drawing on the magnificent climax of the supposedly inimitable Russian classic Come and See, Looper is a minor triumph of genre-bending entertainment.

David Neary

Rated 15A (see IFCO website for details)
118mins

Looper is released on 28th September 2012

Looper –  Official website

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Cinema Review: The Five-Year Engagement

 

DIR: Nicholas Stoller • WRI: Nicholas Stoller, Jason Segel • PRO: Judd Apatow, Rodney Rothman. Nicholas Stoller • DOP: Javier Aguirresarobe • ED: William Kerr Peck Prior • DES: Julie Berghoff • Cast: Jason Segel, Emily Blunt, Chris Pratt, Alison Brie

Tom (Jason Segel) meets Violet (Emily Blunt), and they fall madly in love. One year later, Tom proposes to Violet, and she says ‘Yes’, and they live happily ever after… Except…

Picking up on the much smaller problems that couples today face rather than the sit-com’y, over the top stuff that most rom-coms dish out, The Five-Year Engagement will be painfully familiar to anyone who has ever been in a relationship. Tom and Violet are perfect for each other, and instead of the usual petty jealousies or ‘humorous misunderstandings’, the couple here are dealing with the very real problems of employment woes and family ills.

But just because it brings the realness, doesn’t mean it’s forgotten to bring the funny. Less laugh-out-loud funny than the likes of The 40-Year Old Virgin, The Five-Year Engagement is closer to being our generation’s version of When Harry Met Sally, with the humour originating from character rather than, say, farts. Jason Segel continues his reign as Hollywood’s Cuddliest Man, and Emily Blunt remains as adorable as ever, and as always there’s the ‘kookie’ supporting cast, with faces familiar to anyone who’s ever watched and episode of 30 Rock, Parks & Rec, The US Office or Community.

In short, pretty much the perfect date movie, and will have you smiling like a goon on your way out of the cinema. Unless, of course, you’re single… In which case this movie will inspire hope that one day you too will find your Segel or Blunt.

Rory Cashin

Rated 15A (see IFCO website for details)
The Five-Year Engagement is released on 22nd June 2012

 

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kuDpU1vzekE

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Gnomeo & Juliet

Gnomeo & Juliet

DIR/WRI: Kelly Asbury • Wri: Kelly Asbury, Mark Burton, Kevin Cecil, Emily Cook, Kathy Greenberg, Andy Riley • PRO: Baker Bloodworth, David Furnish • ED: Catherine Apple • DES: Kalina Ivanov • CAST: James McAvoy, Emily Blunt, Maggie Smith

It’s that time again, the time when The Bard’s words are wheeled out and given an updated ‘twist’ for modern audiences. In Gnomeo & Juliet the twist is that the parts in the greatest love story ever told are played by animated garden gnomes, and I’m not kidding. With James McEvoy voicing the aptly named Gnomeo and Emily Blunt taking on the role of Juliet, it can’t all be bad, can it!?

Well no, whilst rival clans of garden gnomes might ordinarily be the stuff of cheesy horror, our characters are effortlessly charming. Whilst the entire thing is vaguely ridiculous, it’s difficult not to get sucked into the childishness of it all and enjoy it for what it is, fun. McEvoy and Blunt bring a charming element to this bizarre love story and it’s hard not to root for these little guys despite the question marks looming in the dark recesses of your brain. There are some nods to the play specifically for the adults, as well as some gentle pastiche of more modern movies to ensure a few chuckles from those of us in double digits.

The animation itself is crisp and pristine and includes more bright colours than your retinas knew existed but, as always, the unnecessary addition of 3D does very little for the overall experience of the story, other than making the outing very slightly more expensive and the task of convincing a small child to keep 3D glasses on for the entirety is never a simple one. This animation would be more enjoyable in 2D as that now unavoidable extra dimension dulls what is intended to be excellent animation.

There is an over-heavy use of well-known voices which takes away a bit of the magic of the film. Rather than falling in love with an ensemble porcelain cast, the audience find themselves doing the obligatory, ‘Who IS that? Sounds familiar….Oh it’s Peggy Mitchell right?, It’s a sad fact that some movies simply can’t stand on their own merit and require an impressive ensemble cast in order to sell tickets at the box office (Valentine’s Day anyone?!). It is slightly disillusioning when this carries over into animation in order to lure parents in with their kids.

Overall, Gnomeo & Juliet is a bizarre but somewhat enjoyable exploration of a timeless classic. Right, now that that’s over with we must all bow our heads and pray that the next ten years doesn’t see the appearance of lawnmower races and rival garden gnomes in the Shakespeare Leaving Cert question.

Ciara O’Brien

Rated 15A (see IFCO website for details)
Gnomeo & Juliet
is released on 11th February 2011

Gnomeo & Juliet – Official Website

[youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yPQyg8XtGsw[/youtube]


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The Wolfman

The Wolfman

DIR: Joe Johnston • WRI: Andrew Kevin Walker, David Self • PRO: Sean Daniel, Benicio Del Toro, Scott Stuber, Rick Yorn • DOP: Shelly Johnson • ED: Walter Murch, Dennis Virkler, Mark Goldblatt • DES: Rick Heinrichs • CAST: Benicio Del Toro, Anthony Hopkins, Emily Blunt, Hugo Weaving

The chequered history of the making of The Wolfman has gone through a similar transformation as the full-mooned, hirsute beast himself. The film’s original director Mark Romanek headed for the moors just before shooting began and was never seen again. Scripts were slashed and rewritten, and Jumanji’s Joe Johnston appeared and took over the picture. Reshoots followed and the release date was rescheduled and last-minute re-edits took place. All of this shows on the screen as The Wolfman comes across as a pieced-together film of disjointed scenes with glaring tonal shifts that makes for unsatisfactory viewing – all sewn together like Frankenstein’s monster.

The film stays close to George Waggner’s 1941 The Wolf Man, inspired by Curt Siodmak’s innovative writing and Lon Chaney Jnr.’s lead performance, but never comes near its suspense or charm.

Benicio Del Toro is surprisingly poor in the lead role of Lawrence, an American who returns to England to his father’s grand estate in 19th century Blackmoor, after his brother has been mysteriously clawed to death by a mysterious beast. There’s mystery afoot (or rather apaw). Lawrence promises his brother’s widow (Emily Blunt) that he’ll do everything in his power to get to the bottom of his death. Unfortunately this entails getting mangled by the mysterious beast; and so begins Lawrence’s moonlit walks on the wild side. Cue angry mob of villagers and ensuing carnage. All of this is presided over by Lawrence’ s father (Anthony Hopkins) – astronomer of the stars and wearer of luxurious bathrobes.

Del Toro abandons his usual mannerisms and plays it all as if his corset is too tight. His stiff delivery does the film no favours and the turgid dialogue doesn’t help matters. There’s no sense of the tragic hero in his performance. He never demonstrates the torment that comes with the knowledge of what is about to transpire. His anguish is more that of a kitten trying to catch running water, rather than that of a man riddled with werewolfitis. Anthony Hopkins does nothing more than make faces at the camera and reads through his lines with all the relish of a fast-food burger. Emily Blunt doesn’t do herself any favours and seems to traipse through the whole mess auditioning for the next Jane Austen adaptation.

The transformation scenes are uninvolving and serve no purpose other than to make you pine for the special effects of John Landis’ 1981 classic, An American Werewolf in London. The sequences are actually designed by the same make up effects wizard Rick Baker; but in this case rather than the fruits of physical labour being brought to the screen, it is all a bit of a CG unimpressive mess of cracking bones and sprouting hairs – like that guy you used to sit beside in school.

The film resorts to loud sudden scares in an effort to fulfil its horror billing and lacks any subtlety or dramatic tension. When the wolfman is on the rampage, disembodied limbs fly about the screen and the camera stumbles around the place as if the director himself had been caught in the crossfire of slashing claws. The cross cut editing tries too hard to impress.

It’s all a bit too serious. The film labours under its pretentious airs and graces and takes itself far too seriously. Granted, the film has a high production value and certainly looks great. The moors that you should always ‘stay away from’, but never do, are a sumptuous feast and lit skilfully to heighten its eerie elegance. But it’s all let down by the sense of disappointment at what could have been so much better.

If this film has any positive effects, its that it will encourage people to revisit Lon Chaney Jr. camping it up as the hapless victim of lycanthropy in the 1941 classic The Wolf Man.

As for this 2010 version – more turkey than wolf. Howl? I nearly slashed the seats with my false fingernails.

Steven Galvin

Rated 16 (see IFCO for details)

The Wolfman is released 12th Feb 2010

The Wolfman – Official Website

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