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 – Mad Max: Fury Road

Listen, I’m hardly writing a huge scoop here. Half the world has seen Mad Max: Fury Road by now and I’m well aware that I’m the dopey late comer to the party; busting out the champagne long after all the other guests have passed out drunk and oblivious on the couches.

The story of Mad Max: Fury Road  is this: Max Rockatansky is struggling to survive in a post-apocalyptic desert landscape where water and fuel is in short supply.  He finds himself captured and held captive by the heinous cult leader Immortan Joe and his army of war boys who use him as a “blood bag”.  Meanwhile, Imperator Furiosa, one of Immortan Joe’s high-ranking warriors, has plans to smuggle Joe’s five wives in a war rig to the “Green Place” in the hopes of freeing them from a life as breeding machines. Max is taken along on the multi-vehicle hunt for Furiosa but ends up joining forces with her and thus begins a high-octane chase across the desert . The plot is simple, but the end result is pretty spectacular, for a variety of reasons.

At this point, is Tom Hardy contractually obliged to wear something over his mouth in every movie?

At this point, is Tom Hardy contractually obligated to wear something over his mouth in every movie?

Mad Max: Fury Road was released in May of this year, 36 years after the original Mad Max came out. I just want to touch on this for a moment. George Miller directed Mad Max in 1979, from wholly original material that he co-wrote with Byron Kennedy and James McCausland. In 1979, there were roughly 4.3 billion people in the world, Jimmy Carter was POTUS and Margaret Thatcher was the UK Prime Minister. Zimbabwe was still called Rhodesia and Rod Stewart was topping the charts. In short, it was a very different world than the one we know now.

The movie cost about $400,000 and ended up earning $100million. Two other movies followed, in 1981 and 1985, both of which were critical successes. That leaves 20 years between the release of Mad Max: Beyond Thunderdrome and Mad Max: Fury Road, so George Miller had some time to kill. What did he do with that time? Why, the only natural progression after three hugely successful action movies depicting a post-apocalyptic desert wasteland populated by morally corrupt and hyper violent people. He directed Babe and Happy Feet (and their sequels):

Let's face it, Immortan Joe would make bacon out of this guy before you could say "That'll do pig, that'll do"

Let’s face it, Immortan Joe would make bacon out of this guy before you could say “That’ll do pig, that’ll do”

Not a sandstorm in sight here

Not a sandstorm in sight here

These were excellent movies in their own right but it does leave you doing a bit of a double take when you read George Miller’s IMDB page.  After making those cuddly wuddly films  you might expect Miller would have released Mad Max: Furry Road; about a roaming band of fluffy kittens who try their darndest to catch a ball of yarn without tripping over their teeny tiny paws in the process. No shame in that, I would have been first in line.

Instead, George Miller created a masterpiece which blew all other action movies from this year  the 21st century out of the water. Using mainly real effects, he has crafted a world which feels real, yet boggles the mind in its surrealness. I have absolutely nothing against CGI and am grateful for what it has added to cinema, but there is no denying that the effects  in Mad Max: Fury Road get under your skin in a different way and make contemporary blockbusters look like early 90s cartoons by comparison.

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I am going to be this guy for Halloween, for sure.

This feels like the action movie I have been waiting for all my life, one where I do not have to switch off my brain to be able to enjoy the stunts. Much has been discussed about the movie’s feminist themes, and while some may disagree, I believe this movie has done a huge service to promote feminist viewpoints in mainstream movies. It does this in  both the glaringly obvious ways – hey, it’s a movie about freeing a group of women who have been kept as property by a man – and in much more subtle ways.

The real protagonist is the awe-inspiring Furiosa, who is allowed to be both kick-ass and vunerable, victim and victor, violent and caring. I am so tired of seeing “tough chicks” who cartwheels around in hyper-sexualised outfits and look at the camera with a “come-hither” look. Furiosa is a real person, with her own motivations and desires that are in no way related to her male companion. And she’s an amputee, but that’s no biggie either in this movie. It’s such a beautiful thing to behold and left me practically jumping on the couch and wanting to shout “See Hollywood, this is how you do it! It’s not that hard!!”

And don’t even get me started on the Vuvalini tribe of hardened old women warriors.  Women with wrinkles and grey hair allowed screen time, and doing something other than sitting in a corner on a rocking chair and mumbling? Come one now George Miller, Christmas is still months away. Rather than being the typical older, white, male director and telling the kids to get off his lawn, Miller has kept in tune with the times and breathed fresh air into his franchise.

Photo from the brilliant feministmadmax tumblr

Photo from the brilliant feministmadmax tumblr

Aside from all the gender politics stuff, which bore a lot of people to death, Mad Max: Fury Road is just damn good fun. Engrossing, fast paced, scored perfectly; this is how you do entertainment, guys.

I also recommend anyone to go and do a bit of reading about what it took to get the movie made. You may have heard about the term development hell, and the process of making this movie ticks all the boxes for that definition and then some. The idea for the film actually started in 1998 and then went through countless setbacks. Miller even considered making it as an animated feature at one point. I have huge admiration for a film maker like Miller who has gone through so much over his career to make his vision come to life so that we, the lucky audience, can share in it. Is Mad Max: Fury Road perfect? No, but it’s close, and that’s good enough for me. Now excuse me while I go look for a flame throwing guitar.

More Than Meets The Eye

For a great many people, a trip to the cinema is nothing more than a few hours of entertainment. A brief interlude to while away the hours until you get back to the business of “real life”. These people most often forget what they have watched long before the stale, overly salted concession stand popcorn has passed through their gut. That is fine. Horses for courses etc.

However, for some of us a trip to the cinema is a moment of pure anticipation from the moment we book our ticket. We know that, in the darkness that will engulf us for a few hours, we will encounter a multitude of emotions; disgust, boredom, anger,  joy, sorrow and the kind of awe that leaves goosebumps all over your flesh. We know that there is the possibility we will stumble out of that darkness with a new view of the world; feeling enriched, enlightened and, yes, entertained too. But what exactly we will come away with we can never know for sure and therein lies the excitement.

And, so, movies have become for me a red thread that weaves through my life from some of my earliest memories and up until now. The thread is not linear but rather spins and twists in elaborate patterns and spreads to far-flung places, to times long gone and to futures as yet unknown. Some movies have even felt like building blocks that contributed to who I am today and how I see the world.

No doubt, you have to wade through a lot of rubbish to get to the gems that leave a lasting impression. But, when you find them, it is so worth it. In this blog I will do a lot of wading as well as re-visiting some old favourites. I hope this space will be a place of solace for those of you who think there is more to movies than discussing how hot Megan Fox looked in the latest Michael Bay screen explosion thingy.