Review – Sicario

Sicario is the latest movie directed by Denis Villeneuve, who was also behind Prisoners and Enemy. Enemy was, without a doubt, one of my favourite movies of 2014; a completely mind bending experience that just kept on getting better the more I delved into its possible meanings after it ended. I was disappointed that it wasn’t more widely viewed so when hype started building around his next project, Sicario, I was pleased to say the least. He’s a film maker that deserves more attention.

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The film introduces us to the FBI agent Kate Macer (Emily Blunt), who is recruited for a special unit tasked with locating cartel hitman Manuel Díaz who will hopefully lead them to the whereabouts of the Mexican drug lord Fausto Alarcón. Joining the task force means following the leader of the task force Matt Graver (Josh Brolin) and working alongside his partner, the elusive and stone faced Alejandro Gillick (Benecio del Toro). At the beginning, we don’t know much about Gillick or the role he plays in the operation, except that he seems to work with unorthodox methods. Macer, with her idealism and play-by-the-book attitude, is a fish out of water in this operation and we follow her down the rabbit hole of horror that is the war on drugs.

The first part of the movie is truly exhilarating and terrifying. With skilful direction and the superb cinematography of the Roger Deakins, each frame looks like a painting, if a painting was a living, breathing thing. From the moment the film starts, it pulls no punches in showing us the horrors of the drug trade and the inhumane effect it has on all the areas it passes through. The part of the movie set in Juarez is edge-of-your-seat film making; each pothole the heavily armoured police vehicles drive over sending a jolt through you, as if you were sitting in the vehicle yourself. The score makes you think we are in Mordor, and the sheer brutality on the streets suggests you shouldn’t be surprised to find orcs running at you at any moment. The tension builds and builds until we find the characters stuck in a traffic jam, a scene which is very probably one of the best of the year.

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The problem with the movie, however, is that it peaks right here. All the elements of an outstanding movie are there, great cast (not least del Toro, who stands out), director and cinematography, a story which is more real than you would wish and, yet, somewhere in the middle of the movie, I found myself bored. I really, really tried to suppress the feeling, but there was no denying that my mind was drifting and my hand was twitching for my phone. The movie hits another high note towards the end of the film with an incredibly tense dinner table scene, but the damage had been done by then and I wasn’t fully engaged any longer.

I don’t know if the middle of the movie was actually boring or if it was just that it started on such a high note and then shifted tone abruptly. Maybe, if we had all the character exposition at the beginning, building up to a climax, I wouldn’t have felt so deprived of the adrenaline that surged through me at the start.

What did work for me though, was the way the movie uses Blunt’s character as our introduction into this world. The story, for me, is actually mostly about del Toro’s character and his quest to right the wrongs that have been done to him. But had we been fed his story in a more traditional way, with him in the centre of the movie, the movie would have felt very different. In that scenario, they could have replaced him with Liam Neeson and had him growling at people about his “special set of skills”.

As we see things through Macer, Gillick is more of an enigma and that does keep your interest longer than it otherwise would have. Macer herself is a frustrating character sometimes, but the movie needs a newcomer to this world to remind us of our own humanity and not just get swept away by the violence and chaos.

Sicario is by no means a bad movie. It has a multitude of strengths and in parts displays real cinematic genius. But it was a disappointment for this Villeneuve fan. Will I be watching his next film? You bet! Will I temper my expectations next time around? You can count on it.

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Planning my Best Movie Year Ever

Okay, so maybe 2016 isn’t going to be my best ever movie year. I can’t be in full control of that. I am, like all of us, largely at the mercy of the film makers creating the movies I go to see, and no one can predict the amount of drivel we have to wade through in the year to come. But I am always hopelessly optimistic at the start of the year, when my mind is abuzz with all the award contenders from last year, conveniently forgetting the movies I couldn’t even finish.

What I am not always, however, is organised. I really don’t have much time to go to the cinema, and with movies going out of circulation quicker and quicker, I often miss out on great films and then have to wait many months before I am able to view them on my own small screen at home. I am also a tad lazy when it comes to leaving the comforts of my home in the evenings, and the fluorescent lights, mopey staff, depressing concession stand offerings and all around plasticky, germ-ridden feel of the nearest multiplex really doesn’t help my determination to watch more movies on the big screen.

However, this year is the year when that will change! My resolutions for 2016 are almost exclusively to do with film, and they can be divided into 3 steps.

See More Movies in the Cinema

I do love a neatly organised plan, so I have made a note of the release dates of the movies I am most looking forward to in the next few months. It’s a bit tricky, as the release dates for my part of the world aren’t always readily available and many movies are released in cinemas even months after they are released on iTunes, DVD, etc elsewhere. Yes, I know, I feel sorry for me too!

Originally, I had wanted to do this plan/calendar for the whole year, but it’s simply too difficult as some of them don’t even have release dates yet, and certainly no local release date or distributor. But I will keep revising and updating as the months go by.

There are also many movies I have not scheduled in, as I am not yet sure they are MUST SEE in the cinema, but that may change as more is revealed about them. I have to be realistic, I am not going to be able to go to the cinema every week, so priorities have to be made. But at least, this way, I should avoid missing out on the ones that really matter to me.

For planning purposes, I made use of these lists in particular:

http://blogs.indiewire.com/theplaylist/the-100-most-anticipated-films-of-2016-20160104?page=1

The 12 Movies We’re Most Excited to See in 2016

So, with a bit of help from my fairy babysitters (in-laws), in the next few weeks alone I should be able to catch both The Big Short, The Revenant, Spotlight, Deadpool and Zoolander 2. Later on, I particularly hope to see Midnight Special. Other than that, March and April look like pretty quiet months on the movie front, but let me know if I’ve missed something unmissable.

Eliminate Blind Spots

If you follow film aficionados on Twitter you may have come across #blindspots (careful, it’s also an unrelated TV series). Basically, it refers to those movies that are supposed to be masterpieces that you have somehow managed to miss yourself. They can be old classics or newer films, it doesn’t matter.

I only came across this recently, as I saw others set out a plan for a set amount of blindspot movies they were going to try to watch over the next year. Living in what sometimes feel like a cinematic wasteland, I was envious of other people’s access to this kind of variety. But then I remembered the TCM channel and that we had a magazine lying around with the TV programmes for the whole of Jan. So, after just a quick flick through that magazine I realised I can catch up on the following classics, in just one month:

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  • A Streetcar Named Desire
  • Silent Running
  • Carlito’s Way
  • Singin’ In the Rain
  • Casablanca (yes, yes, I know, calm yourselves)
  • The Big Sleep
  • Rebel Without a Cause
  • Meet Me in St. Louis
  • East of Eden
  • The Philadelphia Story

I’m so excited by this step in particular. I think it’s easy to get caught up in the newest releases, and they often seem more accessible on many levels. But it’s hugely beneficial, if not essential, for any fan of cinema to go back in time and explore the rich history of film and discover how those films influence what we watch today.

I think I was about 14 or 15 when I started educating myself in earnest, watching stuff like Psycho, Apocalypse Now, Some Like it Hot, Citizen Kane, The Shining, Texas Chainsaw Massacre, The Birds…for a timid teenage girl I really did watch some rather violent stuff…and those movies had a huge impact in helping me understand different ways of seeing as well as broadening my taste in film. Like a kid who learns to enjoy strong, complex flavours.

Take Notes

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This is in extension of this blog that I have started, but I want to start taking notes either during or shortly after movies I watch. I may not write and publish a full review of every movie I watch, but I would love to look back on each year and see exactly what movies I have watched and how they made me feel. I so often end up not being able to remember what I watched during the year, each year seeming to blend with the previous ones. Ah, old age! “Notes, or it didn’t happen” is going to be my 2016 motto.

So there you have it, folks, my steps to approaching movie watching in a more purposeful manner, while still retaining all the enjoyment and fun. I think this is going to be a good year. How about you, what are you looking forward to watching in the coming year? Are there any golden oldies you’re planning on finally catching up on?

 

 

Review – Goodnight Mommy

We’ve made it into 2016 so cheers to that! I’m excited for the year ahead in film and hope we’ll get to see some real masterpieces in the year ahead.

If you’re looking for something cheerful and upbeat to keep the festive season going, I’m afraid today’s movie isn’t going to help you. But you may take something else of value from it. As a warning, I just want to say that it’s difficult to discuss this movie and its themes without possibly revealing some spoilers, so if you want to watch this with absolutely no knowledge of it, better read this review after you’ve had a chance to see the movie.

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Goodnight Mommy is an Austrian movie which takes place in a modern country house and the surrounding countryside. We meet the twin brothers, Lukas and Elias, who seem to spend their days playing in the woods and fields largely unsupervised. Their mother returns to the house to recover from plastic surgery, her head and face bandaged completely, making her difficult to recognise. The boys seem disturbed by their mother’s new appearance and start to observe behaviour from her which doesn’t fit with the mother they know. They become suspicious and start to explore the possibility that the person behind the bandage may not be their mother at all. Testing her in ways that become increasingly disturbing, Goodnight Mommy leaves you wondering who you need to fear; masked adult with bloodshot eyes or the freckle-faced young boys.

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It’s a common theme in horror movies to use evil children to scare the living daylights out of you; The Omen, Children of the Corn, Mean Girls…okay, that last one is a stretch, but only by a little bit. Recently, however, I feel like I’ve seen a change towards a more realistic portrayal of disturbed children, children who do not fit our society’s expectations of normal behaviour, rather than your more common Spawn of the Devil/possessed by evil spirits-child.

One of the best horror movies of recent years was the sublime The Babadook. The horror in that film is not so much to do with the titular boogey man character but rather to do with the fraught relationship between mother and child. Another movie, The Orphanage, also explores some more than challenging aspects of parenthood that are far scarier than the ghostly apparitions in the film. Goodnight Mommy explores some of these same areas to chilling effect.

I wonder if this could be a whole genre of its own; Parental Horror? The fear that parents, particularly mothers, have of having to deal with a challenging child and being branded as an incompetent parent when you fail is not to be downplayed. It is an alienating, identity-anihilating experience not unlike having a bucket of pig’s blood dropped on you in front of your peers.

I will say, though, that I am not sure this movie can be correctly classified as a horror movie. Yes, the last third is unequivocally a horror, with some incredibly hard to watch scenes of violence. But leading up to that it is a very slow exploration of the dynamic in this secluded household, and I think many who might go into this expecting thrills and scares will feel disappointed. It fits maybe somewhere between a psychological thriller and a horror, but a slow version.

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Similarly to The Gift, which I reviewed recently , the house in Goodnight Mommy is like a character in its own right, offering us clues and setting the mood for the film.

Throughout the house, we glimpse huge canvas photos of a person we can only assume to be the mother, but all the photos are blurry, so that she is out of focus. These canvases help us piece together a picture of the boys’ mother as someone whose sense of self is anchored strongly in her appearance. But the blurriness adds a disturbing feel to the photos, taking them beyond your standard narcissistic celebrations of female beauty. There are also some candid snapshots of the mother before her surgery which leave you wondering: why did she feel the need for surgery in the first place? Nothing is directly spelled out in this movie, but there are plenty of elements which leave you puzzling with pieces of the story, trying to figure out how they fit together.

In short, Goodnight Mommy is not afraid to explore some really dark themes, pushing us towards the uncomfortable. It doesn’t handle these themes as entertainingly as some other movies, but it is a worthwhile addition to a growing collection of films that seek to scare us not with horrors that come from another world but with horrors that we fear most right here in our own world.

As always, I’d love to hear your opinions in the comments section. Much obliged.