Sicario: a young SWAT member joins a ‘special activities’ task force that may or may not be as legitimate as they first appear. The acting, direction, and visuals are gorgeous and often spellbinding; the characters and plot however… not so much. Very little new ground is covered, particularly with the characters: a naïve by-the-book agent (Blunt), mysterious and dangerous man-with-no-name (del Toro), the charismatic but cynical and amoral team leader (Brolin), questionable American operations, yada yada yada. The central character – who is already an unnecessary audience surrogate – has an even more redundant BFF to more explicitly vocalise her thoughts and attempt to let the dummies at the back know what may be happening (not much is actually revealed until the last 20 minutes). There’s a few nerve-shreddingly intense scenes like the border crossing, tunnel raid, and the last supper; which are paired with bursts of ultra-bleak violence and very graphic gore, which make the movie more grisly – although these felt like they were chasing notoriety, and ‘sexing up’ the otherwise flat tone. The daytime scenes look fantastic, downside being that some of the low-light or night-vision scenes are harder to follow. While Sicario looks fantastic, has the big names, and some dark and memorable scenes it’s far less effective than a straight-up drama like Prisoners: it feels a bit like a Steven Seagal/SWAT plot viewed through another character, and with an arthouse guise – leaving me with the impression that it’s more a film for the critics than the public. Like the pacing, story, shots, and characters, Sicario is intentionally slow and steady.
The Descendants: with his wife in a coma and a complex real-estate deal on the horizon Matt King has to hold his dysfunctional, crumbling family together. Despite the ukuleles, sandals, crazy shirts and knockout scenery this isn’t just heartache in Hawaii; it’s very down-to-earth and there’s not a whole lot of glamour. Even though there’s no single major traumatic scene, the entire film plays as a long, touching human drama – you don’t even know the wife, but every time the characters speak of her, it just gets you right there…Clooney‘s good, really good – and Matt is a well-written, complex, character – but I would argue that it’s not much above what he’s done in other films recently. The older daughter (Woodley), didn’t really need the “must be wearing bikinis / skin-tight clothing” clause in the contract, she could act like a boss. Robert Forster was also spellbinding and only the comic relief surfer friend felt a little out-of-place – but he was necessary. Unassuming, and maybe a little too chilled out, The Descendants places the emphasis on family and love, and although it doesn’t pull any fancy tricks or big punches through the 110 minute runtime, only heartless people could leave the cinema unshaken – I for one was uncharacteristically emotional when I walked out. A fantastic, modest, bittersweet human drama.
Dragon Tiger Gate [Blu Ray]: Two step-brothers and a random come together and fight the evil Lousha Gate to save their martial arts school. Based on a Chinese comic (Oriental Heroes), there’s some sweet-ass stylish opening credits, and more generally the acting’s decent by comic adaptation standards. The story’s a bit overcooked and strays pretty deeply into the field of cheese with the metaphors, dreams and visions – which gets a little tedious. What makes this watchable is Donnie Yen’s jaw-dropping action choreography (and 14 year old emo girl’s haircut!), particularly the 2x restaurant scenes. The baseball field and gate bit are also fairly good – although the final boss fight has far too much SFX, which loses the innovative and live action feel of the earlier battles. The Blu Ray picture’s good, and vibrant when it needs to be, the HD sound is loud, proud, punchy and clean. Although the story’s not up to much, Dragon Tiger Gate is some harmless action fun.