Film Review : Sicario (2015)

IMDB Score – 8.1
Rotten Tomato Score – 93%

Directed By – Denis Villenuvue
Starring – Emily Blunt, Josh Brolin, Benicio Del Toro, Victor Garber, Jon Berntha, Daniel Kaluuya, Jeffery Donovan, Maximiliano Hernández, and Julio Cedillo

An idealistic FBI agent is enlisted by an elected government task force to aid in the escalating war against drugs at the border area between the U.S. and Mexico.

I’m back. No explanation needed. I’m back.

I’m confronted with an interesting question after today. Who is the best working director in the present time? Before this morning, the answer was simple, Paul Thomas Anderson. How could it not be him? The Master? Masterpiece. There Will Be Blood? Masterpiece. I have Inherent Vice coming into my mailbox for a second viewing tomorrow, but after the first viewing, it seems his latest effort has fallen short of such previous accolades. What other directors deserve such mention? Well, if Shane Carruth could put out more than one film every eight years I’d say he deserves mention. The Coen brothers have been as consistent as anybody working today but it’s that consistency that seems to prevent them from pushing themselves to the top in my opinion. I’m a man of change, a man of ever evolving interests and I need a director that encompasses such a viewpoint. Insert Denis Villenueve. Like Paul Thomas Anderson, Villenuve has a very broad and diverse resume of films. He’s covered psychological thrillers with Enemy, drama with Prisoners and Incendies, and even the art house quiet film that is Maelstrom. Let me get this out of the way, Incendies is one of my favorite films of all time. It slays me, every time. I’ve been hooked to Villenuve ever since he opened Incendies with a close up shot of a middle eastern child soldier set to Radiohead’s “You and Whose Army”. Prisoners was haunting. Enemy was baffling. Now, he comes along with a film like Sicario and I’m left puzzling over whether this auteur from Canada could really be my favorite working director I still don’t have a clear answer, but honestly, right now, I think I have a feeling. Denis Villenuve may just have beat out PTA for the top spot in my highly coveted favorite director position. It’s an honor both earned, and deserved. Let us talk about his latest film…Sicario.

Has a film started out with such a bang before?

Jesus. What a way to open a film.

The thought of a SWAT team operation is reserved for the pivotal action set piece in most films and here we have Villenuvue opening his film with a full on tactical assault on a house in what seems to be Walter Whites neighborhood. What follows is nothing short of horror. I’m sitting in my chair, nails deep in my arm rests and it’s only been fifteen minutes into the film. I know what I’m dealing with and I know what is at stake.

I live in New Jersey. That is a far ways away from Mexico. I don’t really understand what it is like living next to such a country. I mean, I live next to New York. I’ve walked those streets. Never have I felt like I was in any danger. Mexico? That’s another world altogether. I can’t even imagine living in Juarez if it’s anything like how it’s portrayed in this film. It is hell on Earth, a warzone dolled up like a functioning city. In a way, this was the most shocking part of this film, that such a place can exist.

Villenueve knows what the fuck he is doing. This story is actually kind of simple. You take a cop from a Kidnapping division and insert her into a big boy league narcotics assault division. These people know how to get results. They laugh at fear. An average director would take such a premise and throw glitter at it, add a couple CGI action scenes and call it a day. Not Villneuve. There isn’t a single scene in this film that doesn’t reek with the smell of dread. The opening sequences only set a precedent that is carried out throughout the duration of the film. This is life. This is Juarez. Get used used to it. I was blown away by the rawness and overall bleak nature that Villenuve showed us in nearly every scene. Sure there were some scenes of humor, like the shot of Josh Brolin sitting in a meeting room wearing sandals as if they weren’t talking about a psychotic drug lord, but rather who was going to bring the potato salad to the company picnic. These moments are always snuffed out though with a musical score that reminds the viewer…hey, this is real shit. This isn’t some run of the mill TV episode about how the drug trade is supposed to work. This is why I love Villenueve. He doesn’t sugar coat anything. He doesn’t hold back when you think they should. He has close ups of rotting dead corpses. The has lingering shots of bodies hanging from Juarez overpasses. If the general tone is supposed to be horrific and uneasy, he’s going to show you. It’s reason why this film sticks out over the rest. It’s a raw hellride of momentous proportion.

Jesus, I haven’t even mentioned the acting. I’m not a big defender on the importance of awards season, but if Benicio Del Tori and Emily Blunt don’t get recognition for their roles in this film then there is something rotten in the state of Denmark if you know what I mean. Blunt carries the film for the most part with an absolutely dedicated and harrowing performance. She does this however, knowing, that this really isn’t her film. She isn’t really the main character in my opinion. Sure she gets the most screen time and fully takes advantage of this by giving a career performance, but this sin’t her film.

This is Benicio Del Toro’s film.

We’ve all seen what this man can do. He’s a virtuoso. A chameleon. His performance in this film only goes to show he’s one of the mot underrated actors working in Hollywood today. Del Toro SLAYS this role. His importance to the mission within the film is questioned throughout the run time but only towards the end do we know why his character is so important to the film and this is where Del Toro really shines as a menacing force. Every time he’s on screen I reel back with anticipation on what he’s going to do next. Even when he’s in a situation where the action should be the main player, he’s taking over the scene with his presence. By the end, you don’t know whether he’s somebody you should root for or somebody you should root against, and he plays this uncertainty brilliantly. He shines.

Cudos to my man Roger Deakins. I mean, I really don’t have to say that. He’s a master of his craft and only proves so again with his gorgeous cinematography. This film is all over the spectrum visually with scenes coming at night when the horizon is open with a Mexican sky unlike any other. His night vision and thermal camera scenes are perfect and engaging. Villenuve and Deakins team up to provide what is easily the most intense and “on the edge of your seat” harrowing extraction scene through Juarez that holds up to any action scene in recent history. I can’t stress that enough. From the moment they left in their caravan til the moment they arrived back at the base, I was enthralled. It’s easily one of the most adrenaline fueled scenes in recent memory for me. I loved it. I had to catch my breath at the end of it.

I just can’t say enough about this film. It’s a raw and brutal telling about the Mexican drug trade and doesn’t shy away from showing what horror such a business can show. The camera work, acting, musical score, and story pacing are top of their game good and I’m literally drooling at the chance to see this again. I’ve been a big fan of Denis Villenuve for years now and he never ceases to let me down. With all the “action” films released this year, besides Mad Max, this is your chance to see a film that not only provides top of its class action, but also a story and visual presence that will linger and make you think long after the credits roll. It’s my film of the year so far.

5/5




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Film Review : Maelstrom (2000)

IMDB Score – 7.2
Rotten Tomato Score – 80%

Directed By – Denis Villeneuve
Staring – Marie-Josée Croze, Stephanie Morgenstern, Klimbo, and Jean-Nicolas Verreault

After plunging her car into a river, a woman encounters a man who helps her come to terms with her life.

So…after seeing “Enemy” last week I decided that I needed to explore the back catalog of French Canadian director Denis Villeneuve who is quickly becoming one of my favorite up and coming directors. As I wrote last week, “Incendies” is one of my favorite films ever and “Prisoners” and “Enemy” entertained the shit out of me. I’ve heard interesting things from “Maelstrom” and interestingly enough, it so happened to be near the front of my Netflix queue so I push it to the top and here we are. Honestly, I wasn’t floored with the film like I was floored with his other work but I have my reasons for both sides of the argument. I will also note that this review will be brief as I do not enjoy giving out too many details of the plot, which in the case for the film was all over the fucking place. This wasn’t a bad thing by the way.

So that description above the previous paragraph? Yeah, you can go ahead and forget that. The story is really about the life of Bibi, the daughter of a famous French fashion designer that is going through a bit of a life crisis. The film opens up with her getting an abortion and the fun times just start pouring out after that. Poor Bibi. She just couldn’t catch a break, mostly because she’s kind of an idiot but she’s our protagonist so we’ll give her some slack. Bibi goes on to make a few bad decisions and by the middle of the film, has a great deal of guilt racked up on her shoulders. Did I mention we have a talking fish as our narrator? I didn’t? Silly me. Not only is he a talking fish, but he is many talking fish who are getting cut up as the story progresses. The film had a thing with fish. Water, the color blue, fisherman, TALKING FUCKING FISH…you can see the theme here. It was like Villeneuve watched the Three Colors Triology and a shit load of David Cronenberg and decided to write and film this movie. For good measure, he added a bunch of creepy spoken word tracks from Tom Waits, you know, you jazz it up a bit.

So it seems like I’m bashing the film. I’m not doing that. I am just in a weird mood and the sarcasm is leaking from my fingers. Truth is a ended up liking the film. Sure it had flaws. This is one of the first major features of a young director. Have you ever seen the first films of some famous directors? Some are horrid. Some are funny. Some are like this where you can see the originality oozing from the screen but the final product just isn’t as polished or coherent as you would like. I think this is either because young filmmakers have had an entire lifetime of film ideas to put into their first one that they over do it a little. Take Alfonso Cauron for instance. The man just won Best Director at The Oscars but if you go back to his first film, “Love in the Time of Hysteria”, which I reviewed on this site by the way, you’ll notice a film that is far from the quality of his more acclaimed films. It was a funny film but that’s about all. “Maelstrom” on the other hand was able to deliver some emotional scenes backed with some gorgeous camera work. The story was a bit muddy at points and seemed to skip around leaving unresolved questions but it was an experiment and an entertaining one at that.

Seriously, there’s a talking fish in this movie. He’s got a cool accent. I don’t know what his purpose was but it made me laugh.

3/5

Suggested Viewing – Three Colors Trilogy, Naked Lunch, The Sweet Hereafter, Incendies, Head – On



Film Review : Enemy (2014)

IMDB Score – 7.7
Rotten Tomato Score – 71%

Directed By – Denis Villeneuve
Starring – Jake Gyllenhaal, Mélanie Laurent, Sarah Gadon, and Isabella Rossellini

A man seeks out his exact look-alike after spotting him in a movie.

Lately I have been thinking of what up underrated directors do I think are going to be the next big thing in film. Obviously guys like Paul Thomas Anderson and Spike Jonze have been receiving recognition for their work due to their originality and dedication to their work They aren’t pumping out films left and right and what we are ultimately left with is engaging cinema that is going to be talked about for years to come. Denis Villeneuve should be added to that list. He is seriously growing into one of my favorite directors working today. This film just etched it into stone that he is the real deal. While I still haven’t seen his first film “Maelstrom”(I just added to the top of my Netflix queue), I enjoyed “Prisoners” immensely and “Incendies” is one of my favorite films ever. I ended up driving over a half hour to see this is a little indie theater in south eastern New York and it was worth the time and gas mileage. Denis Villeneuve decided that when he was making this film, adapted from the novel “The Double” by Jose Saramago, he decided to make the best David Lynch film since David Lynch’s last film. Look at my profile picture. Do you think I loved the film? Sure did guys. Sure did.

“Enemy” stars Jake Gyllenhaal as Adam, a history professor who gets a movie recommendation one day and after watching it, finds a completely identical person to himself in the film. With some research, Adam finds the man and works up the courage to confront him. That’s all you’re getting guys. The film twists and turns so much while staying eerily still and creepy that any other information about the plot will ruin things Plus, if you’ve read my ramblings you will have learned that I hate giving away plot. Hell, I don’t even like watching trailers anymore due to my interest in holding complete surprise when I enter a theater. This is why you read who made the film ladies and gentlemen and also why you remember their names. I didn’t see the trailer to this but as soon as I heard that Villeneuve had a film out I made time to see it. I ended up being the only person in the theater. The box office attendant told me that everybody has been ripping on the film and that nobody liked it. I told him that those people expected a more polished and cookie cutter film. That is not what you will end up getting. What the film is is a puzzle that only serious pondering will solve. I’m not even bragging. I had to look up the damn meaning of the film after driving a half hour and not getting really anywhere besides a few more obvious mysteries. This is where the David Lynch in this film flourishes. There are a lot of scenes that make little to no sense up front but when you start putting pieces together, those pieces start t look like something recognizable. Even then it can be so abstract that the finished product still will turn people away. That;s okay. The film is definitely not for everybody but I applaud Villeneuve for trying something different and pleasing the shit out of me.

If I were to find some more general appreciation that more people would like, I’d have to go with both color scheme and the acting of Jake Gyllenhaal. I always knew Gyllenhaal was a great actor but he’s really been coming into his own as of late. His role and the last two Villeneuve films have been fantastic and even his work in more mainstream films such as “Source Code” has been good. Playing two characters, Gyllenhaal plays with subtly brilliantly as we really aren’t given any other clues as to who is who besides body language and voice tics. He played both versions of himself great. The other standout is the color scheme. The very bleak and hazy colors that bled into the film were very comforting but also melted with each scene so well. The films score, an eerie and haunting storm of violins and cellos blended with the colors flashing on the screen. The camera work was amazing just as every one of his films has been amazing. I just can’t wait to see another one of his films.

I wish I could discuss more without going into the plot of the film but that would be a disservice as this is really a film to be experience with no prior knowledge. It’s in a very limited release right now and may be hard to find but if you can find one under an hour drive and are fans of films that don’t make a lot of sense but invite the viewing in for serious thought process, then take the drive and see it. The film will certainly give you a one of a kind experience even if you end up not liking it. Shit, the ending alone was one of the most unique things I’ve ever seen and I still have no idea what happened. You won’t be disappointed.

4.5/5

Suggested Viewing – Fight Club, Moon, Mulholland Drive, Inland Empire, Another Earth




Film Review – Prisoners (2013)

IMDB Score – 8.3
RT Score – 80%

Guys, I think it has finally happened. I think we finally have started to hit that point where quality films are going to start coming out and that one of the most boring and uneventful summer of movies is about to end. There have been some good films this year but as a whole I’m glad it’s starting to end. Cannes, Sundance, and the Venice/Toronto film festivals have ended and the New York Film Festival just opened last night. We’re here guys. We’re here.

Prisoners debuted at the Toronto International Film Festival and placed 3rd in the People’s Choice category. I say it was well deserved. Denis Villeneuve, who directed on of my favorite films ever in Incendies, heads this film about a child abduction and how two men try to find the missing children. The film has a stellar cast comprised of Hugh Jackman, Jake Gyllenhaal, Terrance Howard, Paul Dano, Melissa Leo, Maria Bello, and Viola Davis. I mention this lot because I think the acting was the highlight of the film as we get a powerhouse performance by Hugh Jackman and great subtle performances by Viola Davis and Paul Dano. The rest were great as well but the aforementioned stole scenes for me. Jackman is going to be in consideration for awards and until Oscar season comes to an end is my favorite male role this year.

The title of this film holds true to the story as Denis Villeneuve shows us many instances of how people can be taken prisoner. It’s really hard to go into this film without revealing spoilers but I’ll try my best. The cinematography in this film is outstanding. The camera paints a very bleak landscape very very well. Lots of rain and overcast skies that pair up with wonderful camera work during many of the films nighttime scenes. This is a very deep film that really makes the viewer try to determine who the victims are in the grand scheme of thing. What do we do when somebody takes somebody you love? What happens when you think the police aren’t doing the best they can do? I left the theater thinking that the end of the film, while fitting, didn’t quite determine the fates of those involved. This in no way deterred me from liking, even loving the film, as it gave me a lot to think about. This is a film that shows you just enough to be incredibly powerful and disturbing without threatening to beat the living snot out of you with it.

Prisoners has some fantastic twists and turns and fantastic performances from the cast. It’s Seven, meets Zodiac, meets Gone Baby Gone but just so unique in its own right.

4/5