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.
Cold Fish (冷たい熱帯魚, Tsumetai Nettaigyo) (mild spoilers): a mild-mannered fish-shop owner crosses paths with a larger competitor who at first seems like an ideal business partner – but that veneer doesn’t last long. It feels like the director started out with two completely separate film ideas; the first 1-hour 45 contains a pretty credible, low-key, tense, but slow-burning con-man drama – with an off-kilter / black comedy undercurrent. The final act transforms the film into a full-blown slasher – which dwells on depraved sex, violence, gore and some body disposal scenes for a little longer than would be deemed comfortable (or necessary), peaking in a hyper-messy crimson-soaked blood ‘n’ guts finalé – shock cinema at it’s best; or perhaps worst! This wouldn’t usually be a big deal, but at 2.5 hours you could have cut two (better, and) entirely different 90-minute movies out of it – an Evil Dead style gore-romp, or Coen–esque black comedy. There are glimpses of superb direction and storytelling, straight off the bat, but they end up getting lost in the bigger-picture. Acting is also solid (the runaway star being leading man Mitsuru Fukikoshi’s full-bodied transformation) – although, along with everything else, it all gets watered down and lost within the superfluous runtime. This would, by normal standards, be anything but an ordinary film – particularly because it’s littered with gropey and sensational sex scenes – but when you’re following up from an epic like Love Exposure, this feels lukewarm in comparison.
Chinatown: a private investigator is led blindly into a complex conspiracy involving murder, betrayal and state-wide fraud. What surprised me most was Polanski‘s bland and underwhelming direction – which I was expecting to be stellar given the endless plaudits Chinatown receives. It doesn’t even feel like much of a Noir compared to staple genre pictures like The Maltese Falcon, or even a modern stab at Noir, like Brick. The story’s slow-burner, and isn’t always the easiest to follow, but worse still, almost none of the characters developed enough to connect with – they just seemed to be there to facilitate the next plot twist. When it finally rolls around the final act is as good as the film gets, but it feels like too little too late – it also may have been crazy / shocking / controversial back then, but when held up against the shocks we see these days, it carries a far lighter punch on modern audiences. For me, the combination of story, direction, acting, script and overall ‘wallop’ are average at best; although I suspect that having appeared in almost every ‘best films ever’ list, maybe the bar was just set far, far too high.
Django Unchained: a German bounty hunter frees a slave, then partners up with him to make some cash and rescue his girl from a flamboyant plantation owner. As expected, Waltz absolutely steals the show with what’s essentially a re-write/reprise of his intelligent, oddly-humorous ‘Jew-hunter‘. Everyone else turns up and does their thing entertainingly enough. While the film pokes a lot of fun at the stupidity of racism (KKK mask scene & Sam Jacksons rant about Foxx sleeping in the house), for me the ‘N-Bomb’ is dropped far, far too often: which may have been accurate of the period, but it’s such a loaded word that drags the tone down – taking it way beyond any ‘light-hearted’ Blazing Saddles similarities. Clocking in at 2hr 45, it’s also far, far too drawn out, for such a simple revenge tale, especially once Dicaprio pops up: some scenes seem to go on forever with rambling, empty, dialogue and plodding shot after shot. While they’re all quintessential Tarantino scenes, it also suffers from his trademark lack of self-censorship. Finally, although, stylistically, most scenes are undeniably QT -and this isn’t really his fault – his style’s been ripped off so many times (funky music, uber-gore and back-and-forth dialogue) that it no longer packs the punch it once did. As a stand-alone film, Django Unchained is a decent film dragged down by its ‘epic’ runtime and the difficult task of balancing racism and comedy. It’s only when you step back and hold it up against a film like Inglorious – equally long, but crammed with great, tense and cinematic moments – that you realise how ordinary Django Unchained is.
Infernal Affairs III: part sequel to number 2, and part semi-prequel to the original movie. The layout of the story in this film is ridiculous: it leaps all over the entire ‘Infernal Affairs’ timeline like a demented flea – so much so that it’s a chore trying to keep track of what’s before, after and between the previous two movies. It also doesn’t help matters that 6 characters have been thrown back on the screen after being killed in the first two movies! It even feels like it’s been directed by someone else, which it hadn’t, but tells us that even the director couldn’t be arsed. The signature moments of flare and tension are replaced with lots of forced, over-egged dramatic moments that rely on swooshy sound effects and slow-mo camera movements to create drama out of nothing. It really feels like IA3 only exists because the first two movies were so successful; it’s clearly retrospectively written, rushed, ill-conceived and a tad cynical. it’s a bit of a crushingly disappointing way of capping off a brilliant first and decent second film.
Midnight In Paris [Unavoidable Spoilers]: Woody Allen brings us more misunderstood middle-class artisan-intellectuals with relationship trouble. The idea of the central MacGuffin of this film (travelling back in time and meeting historical figures) didn’t bother me much; but as someone who’s not very literary literate it all got a bit wanky pouring familiar name after familiar name on to the screen as if the audience would lap up the theatricality of it all. The only character I liked from the entire cast was Adrien ”Rhinoceros!!” Brody, everyone else just played pretty grotesque caricatures. Owen Wilson’s does his schlubby moping vagina act again, would love to see him try something different. As with any Allen film, there’s some nice tourism-friendly photography and vision from behind the camera, and a token trampy ragtime soundtrack to tart up the audio. For me, it’s just another stock Allen film – watchable and mildly entertaining – unless you majored in English, then it will undoubtedly be your film of the year.
Somewhere: A successful-but-despondant film star has to spend time with his estranged daughter, they hang out, we watch. This film makes driving a Ferrari boring; it makes Italy look boring; it makes having beautiful women swoon over you boring; worst of all it makes two kinky blonde twins, doing cheeky pole-dancing as nurses rocking to the Foo Fighters boring!! I know this is supposed to be the point but when a character appears to loathe that lifestyle, this reviewer feels no pitty. Sofia Coppola definitely has her own style; unfortunately, it makes me nod off – I genuinely fell asleep twice in the cinema during Lost in Translation, and was so close during this – other punters were more sensible and walked out (and if it hadn’t been the actual ending I’d have walked out after the last scene too). There’s far too many overlong boring shots of mundane non-events. We see some cooking, guitar hero, sunbathing eating, smoking, breathing, empty conversations… it’s essentially a mind numbingly boring fly-on-the-wall focusing on a rather unlikable person. Neither the story or emotions progress, but Dorff and Fanning Jr both do particularly well considering what they have to work with. To top it all off this was sickeningly smug and self-referential; harking back to previous films, echoing a misunderstood celebrity upbringing, and even Sofia’s iPod. This is the rich and famous complaining about being rich and famous. Totally inconsequential, bourgeois, middle class ridiculousness.
NB: If I was that famous I would be traveling the world and having as much fun with family and friends as possible – definitely wouldn’t be a miserable shit like Johnny Marco.
The Killer Inside Me: American Noir set in the 1950s – a chilling character study of a sociopathic sheriff. Pretty much every review focuses and questions the two violent scenes so here goes: in my opinion the violence is shocking, but isn’t just a cheap shock; it’s to help us get further into Lou’s head, showing the audience that he has absolutely no boundaries or morals. Is the film misogynistic? Yes, but that’s because Lou is, and at least it doesn’t glamourise violence like so many other flicks. Beatings aside, whiny Casey Affleck fits the lead role perfectly, and considering he’s in every scene he never becomes boring, stale or overbearing. His believability and end-to-end range really shine through here. The rest of the cast are good, but all feel like bit-parts. Winterbottom’s style is pretty slick and although it’s clearly well-directed, aspects like the offbeat soundtrack and try-hard Noir vibe weary thin by the end. There are also some very, very dark bits of humour usually through Lou’s misunderstanding of normal people, but it probably wasn’t funny to most. Then there’s the ending, which for me was so ridiculous and out of tone with the rest of the story that I’m 95% sure it was a dream. The walkouts through the screening emphasised that this isn’t for everyone, mainly because it’s probably the closest you’ll get to feeling like a serial killer: we hear Lou’s every thought & justification and see both his flashbacks and events in his perspective. You will watch some bits through your fingers, but as much as it’s divided critics, it’s probably the single best example of a director harnessing the power of cinema to manipulate his audience in years. This is our generation’s, much more effective, Henry: portrait of a Serial Killer.