Movie review: Sicario: Day of the Soldado

Movie reviews

Hello!

And welcome to a review of a sequel that I did not think Hollywood would make but I’m so glad they did. This is Sicario 2 or Sicario: Day of the Soldado.

IMDb summary: The drug war on the U.S.-Mexico border has escalated as the cartels have begun trafficking terrorists across the US border. To fight the war, federal agent Matt Graver re-teams with the mercurial Alejandro.

Writing

Sicario 2 was written by Taylor Sheridan – the same screenwriter who wrote the first Sicario as well as such great pictures as Hell or High Water and Wind River. I thought that the writing for the sequel was quite spectacular for the most part. I highly appreciated how topical the movie was, tackling topics that one sees on the news daily. I also loved the ambiguity in the script: the film didn’t have the clear ‘good side’ and it also did not have a conclusion or a clear ‘winning side’. No real happy ending in the film as in life.

The narrative was a bit convoluted and murky at times but I thought that was an accurate representation of the modern warfare. Plans rarely go as planned, layers of authority make decisions impossible to make, and various actors have their own agendas I also really loved how the movie touched upon the ideas of performance within warfare. It was also interesting to see the movie trying to deal with more personal stuff within a context of war.

My only gripe with the film was that I did not think its 3rd act was as strong as the first two. The intensity dropped, the story stopped, and the movie finished a bit of an underwhelming fashion. It tried setting up a sequel which is never an easy way to finish a picture.

Directing

Stefano Sollima, an Italian director, took over the reins of the now-franchise from Denis Villeneuve and crafted an intense and cohesive film, definitely worthy of the first one. The sequel was violent but maybe not as shocking as the first picture. The intensity was still palpable, though. The instrumental score, full of deep and low sounds could be felt in one’s body (if your cinema has a good sound system). The cinematography was great too – static continuous shots of Mexico’s landscape made nature seem both gorgeous and threatening/mysterious.

Acting

Soldado’s cast consisted of Benicio del ToroJosh Brolin, and Jeffrey Donovan reprising their roles, with Isabela MonerManuel Garcia-Rulfo, Elijah Rodriguez and Catherine Keener joining the film. I feel kinda bad for Emily Blunt, as she was sort of the star of the previous film but didn’t/couldn’t return (wasn’t asked to return?) for the sequel. Del Toro killed it in the role again and Brolin (Only the Brave, Hail, Caesar!, Everest) was amazing too (I loved the last shot of him in the hellicopter and just that tiny hint of emotion in his eyes due to the loss of his comrade). I do love the range of the two actors – from The Collector/a smuggler in the Star Wars Universe and Thanos/Cable to the characters in Soldado! Moner was able to showcase her acting abilities so much better in this film than in Transformers 6. It was also nice to see the movie showcasing some Mexican talent – another group of performers that goes underappreciated and underexposed so often in Hollywood.

In short, Sicario 2: Day of the Soldado is a great-looking and smart sequel that will definitely keep you glued to the edge of your seat for at least 2/3 of the film.

Rate: 3.9/5

Trailer: Sicario: Day of the Soldado

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Movie review: Coco

Movie reviews

Hello!

The latest Pixar film has finally landed in my local theatres. This is Coco!

IMDb summary: Aspiring musician Miguel, confronted with his family’s ancestral ban on music, enters the Land of the Dead to find his great-great-grandfather, a legendary singer.

Just before we start, here are the links to my other Pixar reviews: Cars 3, Finding Dory, Inside Out.

Writing

Coco was written by Adrian Molina (worked on Monsters University, Toy Story 3, The Good Dinosaur, Ratatouille) and Matthew Aldrich (who doesn’t have much on his IMDb). Disney/Pixar have been dipping their toes into different cultures more and more (just recently with Moana) and have been attempting to showcase these certain cultures without appropriating them. I think that they succeed at this with Coco. On a side note, Coco is not the first animated film to have explored the day of the dead – 4 years ago, 20th Century Fox animation studios made The Book of Life to little or no fanfare. This only goes to show the importance of the attachment of a big name to any project – people trust Pixar, similarly how they trust Marvel or up until recently, Lucasfilm.

Anyways, back to Coco. So, Molina and Aldrich took the rituals and the beliefs of Dia de Los Muertos and turned them into a mythology of the film. To my mind, they were respectful of the culture and did a very good job of explaining it/informing others about it. I’ve always been interested in this particular celebration (even wrote a paper on it in my first year of uni), however, I only had a limited knowledge of it and Pixar’s Coco expanded it. I loved how they also included other iconic elements/people from the Mexican culture (loved the recurring Frida Kahlo gag). I also liked how the move took something culture-specific, like the idea that people decorate altars with photos, candles, and their ancestors’ favorite things, and used it in a very universal, familiar way, a.k.a in the shrine that Miguel dedicates to his favorite singer. While not all of us have made shrines for our favorite things, I’m certain that everybody who reads this blog has at least one movie poster on their wall. I can tell you that I’ve made many movie shrines in my days.

From the structural point of view, I thought that Coco was a well-written and fun adventure. It had some unexpected twists and turns. Thematically, the movie explored the idea of a family v. individual, though, the true conflict of the film was secrets within a family. In addition, while the Dia de Los Muertos setting of the picture already made it a bit dark, some reveals in the third act made it even darker. The Dia de Los Muertos focus of the film also allowed Coco to stress the importance of remembering one’s ancestors – that was such a nice message to spread. Lastly, in the usual Pixar fashion, all the heartstrings were pulled by Coco too.

Directing

Lee Unkrich (director of Toy Story 3, who has also worked on other Pixar films in various roles since the creation of the beloved studio) directed Coco and did a magnificent job. To begin with, the whole animation department at Pixar should get raises or a standing ovation every morning because Coco was the most beautiful animated picture I have ever seen. The amount of detail that went into the design, the vibrancy of the colors, the lighting – everything was just perfect. A lot of these praises are based just on the original visual appeal of Dia de Los Muertos but I do think that the animators deserve recognition for their work of translating this real-world visual appeal into an animated form. I loved the opening sequence with the backstory given through papercuts – it was both original and a culturally-appropriate way to do exposition.  In addition, I loved the aural cultural aspects that were included – mainly the music and how it was both there to embellish the story and be an important part of the story. ‘Remember Me’ was such a great song and, while it might not be the catchiest one, it carried so much sentimental weight. Lastly, the film was paced very well too. It had a good mix of funny moments, entertaining action, educational information, and heart-wrenching emotions.

Voice work

Anthony Gonzalez voiced Miguel and did such a brilliant job. He had such an expressive and strong voice that was just perfect for the lead in an animated film. Gael García Bernal voiced Héctor, while Benjamin Bratt (he does quite a lot of voice work and was recently in Doctor Strange) was Ernesto. I also really loved the brief but important work of Renée Victor (as Abuelita Elena) and Ana Ofelia Murguía (as Mamá Coco) in the movie. One brought such energy to the character, while the other – such love and affection to her respective character.

In short, Coco was a beautiful story brought to life by gorgeous animation and majestic voice work. This is one of those reviews, where any positive synonym of the word ‘beautiful’ works. And the film is very much worthy of all praise.

Rate: 4.8/5 (I’m taking a few points off not because of the movie but because of its messed up international release date)

Trailer: Coco trailer

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Movie review: Logan

Movie reviews

Hello!

The last (supposedly) Hugh Jackman-lead X-Men movie – Logan – has hit theaters, so, let’s review it! The review is spoiler-free, for the most part. I have written down 8 points, full of spoilers, at the very end and included an additional warning.

IMDb summary: In the near future, a weary Logan cares for an ailing Professor X in a hide out on the Mexican border. But Logan’s attempts to hide from the world and his legacy are up-ended when a young mutant arrives, being pursued by dark forces.

The X-Men franchise has had its fair share of hits and misses. While the original movie and its sequel X2 were mostly well-accepted, everyone would rather forget X3. Looking at the newer prequel franchise, once again, the first two pictures were really good, especially, Days of Future Past, while the third one – X-Men: Apocalypse – was just kinda meh. The most successful X-Men film to date is the spinoff Deadpool, which came out just last year. Now, Logan is following the formula set by Deadpool – the R-rating + the faithfulness to the source material – and is hoping for a win. The previous two Wolverine movies didn’t impress anyone, and that’s putting it mildly. Maybe, third time’s a charm? Both this being the 3rd sub-trilogy within the X-Men series and the 3rd movie of it.

Writing

Logan was written by Scott Frank, the director James Mangold, and a TV writer Michael Green. Frank has written 2013’s The Wolverine and 2002’s Minority Report, while Green is the writer behind Green Lantern (that sounds worrying, however, Green is also listed as the screenwriter for a lot of big upcoming films, like Alien: Covenant, Blade Runner 2049and Murder on the Orient Express, so maybe his writing for Green Lantern was just an unfortunate accident that will never, hopefully, be repeated again?

Even though I had some worries about the writing for this film, I should not have, cause the narrative of Logan was just spectacular – cohesive yet varied and complex. I’m gonna go over all the different story points in the spoiler part, so here I’m just gonna mention some of the general stuff. To begin with, Logan had clever dialogue which provided the viewers with snippets of the overarching story, rather than explaining it through narration. Even the one explanatory scene was done in an interesting and modern way – through a video on a phone.

I also loved all the character moments that were written into the script: Caliban actually had some important stuff to do instead of just being an accessory, like in X-Men:Apocalypse; Professor X, even though he was old, has not lost his nurturing nature; X-23 was animalistic but intelligent (loved the moment when she sucked the bullets out of her hand): she did not say a word until the end of the second hour of the movie, and when she finally spoke, she did that in both Spanish and English, making her an even more of an authentic character; and, lastly, Logan himself has a variety of stunning moments that drove home the idea that he is not the Wolverine that we were used to seeing: this time around, he needed glasses and his claws did not pop out as easily as they used to. The moment from the trailer, where he holds up the comics was also great – it was so fun seeing a comic book character whining about the comics.

Thematically, Logan continued the tradition of all the X-Men films and looked at the staple topics of family and belonging, but not in any other movie have these two topics felt more relevant and emotional.

Directing

James Mangold is best known for directing The Wolverine and the awards’ nominated western remake 3:10 to Yuma (Logan was a kind of western too – set in a similar location but modernized). Mangold did an absolutely spectacular job directing the movie. The opening sequence was just wonderful – it set the tone for the film and explained the characters psychological and physical state with a single, quite short, action sequence. I also have to praise the director for using the various visual storytelling techniques – showing instead of telling. The overall action of Logan was also magnificent. If you thought that Deadpool was violent, then I can tell you that you haven’t seen nothing yet. Logan was 100 times bloodier and way more brutal – it was sometimes hard to watch. And yet, even though the picture’s themes and visuals were dark and brutal, the color pallet was not, meaning that one could actually see the action, instead of guessing what’s happening in the shadows.

Acting

Hugh Jackman was just absolutely wonderful. I’m so happy that he got a chance to finally play the type of Wolverine that he always wanted to play. I really am gonna miss him in this role. Jackman’s next project is a musical The Greatest Showman, which he is going to produce and star in. Patrick Stewart’s last outing as Professor Xavier was also excellent. I wasn’t expecting this many casual humor moments to come from him. His next gig is voicing the poop emoji in The Emoji Movie. Yup, this is the world we live in.

Richard E. Grant was amazing as Zander Rice. I loved his character’s look as well as behavior. Boyd Holbrook was good as Donald Pierce too. His character wasn’t the most interesting but I guess the movie had to have the ‘big bad’ – a mad scientist running things from above. Stephen Merchant replaced Tómas Lemarquis in the role of Caliban and did a much better job. Some of its due to better writing, but I also felt that Merchant delivered a more nuanced performance. Lastly, I have to mention how amazing was Dafne Keen as Laura/X-23. I really hope that this young lady has a bright future ahead of her, be it as the new lead of this franchise or working on other projects.

In short, Logan is a magnificent movie that pushes the boundaries of the comic book genre. It is well acted, has an emotional and interesting story, and spectacular action to top it off.

Rate: 4.7/5

Trailer: Logan trailer

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SPOILER PART

  1. I loved how Logan subverted the action genre tropes. For example, during their first escape, their car actually got stuck in the fence and couldn’t go through it, which usually happens in films. Also, when the bad guy was beginning to give his monolog, I loved that Logan just shot him and cut his speech short. Not only was this a great subversion of a classical action movie cliche, but this action left some gaps in the story, which the villain hadn’t had time to explain
  2. Namely, the biggest gap is the question of what has happened to the mutants that they basically went extinct? The character of Pierce seemed to be the one who was responsible, but Professor X also remembered something related to that incident. Was Xavier somehow responsible too or was he just feeling guilty for not being able to save them?
  3. Speaking about Professor X, while a lot of us predicted his death, it was still an emotional moment. I did shed a tear during his funeral when Logan was at a loss for words and X-23 just took his hand. I loved the scenes of Xavier’s seizures, though, they had such an interesting special effect.
  4. The X-23’s backstory was interesting and pretty faithful to the comics. We also got a bunch of others genetically conceived mutant kids, which I wish we knew more about, cause I wanted to care more for them during the final act. We did get a taste of their powers and I wonder whether they will be the ones to continue this franchise.
  5. Touching upon the third act, it was probably my least favorite part of the movie. I felt that the beginning of it dragged a bit and slowed down the movie too much. It also made the final product feel too long.
  6. The inclusion of the X-24 – an almost perfect killing machine and a double of Wolverine – was an interesting choice. At times, it felt like an afterthought, but I cannot fully argue against its inclusion, cause Hugh Jackman vs Hugh Jackman fights were astonishing.
  7. I have already mentioned how Wolverine was complaining about the comics, but I would also like to draw attention to the fact that the said comics weren’t just there to be an Easter Egg but acted as a driving force for the plot. This idea just blew my mind completely.
  8. And to finish off this spoiler-y part, we, of course, have to talk about the ending and the final send-off of the character. I absolutely loved Logan’s final arc and the mutual saving part of his relationship with X-23. Not only did he actually save her from the Transigen company but she also saved him from suicide. I thought that his death was worth the character’s life and his last moment with Laura, when she utters ‘Daddy’, was a complete tearjerker. The turning of the cross into an X was just a heartbreaking icing on a cake made of tears. I wasn’t completely surprised that they decided to allow this character to die. Hugh Jackman does not really want to do these movies anymore and what a better way to end one’s career as a specific character than to give him the ultimate send-off. It just adds to the legacy of Hugh Jackman as Wolverine.

Movie review: The Shallows

Movie reviews

Hello!

I’m more than a month late to review this film, but you can blame foreign release schedules for that. Without further ado, let’s talk about The Shallows – that small Blake Lively thriller .

IMDb summary: A mere 200 yards from shore, surfer Nancy is attacked by a great white shark, with her short journey to safety becoming the ultimate contest of wills.

I have seen this movie being described as a sum of a few already made films. Some said it was 127 hours in water with sharks, others that it was Shark Week: the movie. Personally, The Shallows reminded me a bit of Soul Surfer (the family drama, the surfer being attacked), Jaws (similar filming techniques from the shark’s perspective so as not to show the shark) and Piranha (the horror elements in the few scenes).  The main thing that attracted me to this film was the fact that I really want to learn how to surf. I already spend a lot of time in the water since I am a competitive swimmer (or used to be one), so transitioning from swimming to surfing would not be that big of a stretch.

Writing

Anthony Jaswinski wrote The Shallows’s script and did a good job. I really liked the way he presented the main character’s backstory – the viewer found out all he/she needed to know in 3 dialogue scenes: the one with the driver, the phone conversation and during the small talk with the other surfers. I also liked her backstory by itself – she was a medicine student so her knowledge of that field helped her survive – she was resourceful and quick-witted. The writing for the big finale was a bit weak though – for such a realistic movie, I had a hard time believing that the shark would meet that kind of an end.

Directing

Jaume Collet-Serra, a mainly thriller director, did not disappoint with another project in his preferred genre. To begin with, the filming locations really helped him – the beach and the ocean were magnificent. Also, the beauty of nature was effectively contrasted with the terror of the situation that the main character was in. The photos that would pop-up on-screen were also a great tool for backstory, so as to make those 3 scenes of dialogue more visual. The effects, mainly the shark CGI or a model, also worked – he did seem real. The glowing jellyfish were also gorgeous. Those seagulls that were keeping Blake Lively company really reminded me of the seagulls that live in Aberdeen, Scotland (my second hometown) because they weren’t afraid of people and seagulls in Aberdeen can literally attack anyone that is passing them by.

The handheld camera was also good (and that’s coming from a person who hates shaky cam) – the mobile frame and the close-ups depicted the fact that our character was alone on a sea really well. This feeling of fear and loneliness together with the sense of suspense made watching the movie an engaging but not a comfortable experience. The hardest scenes to watch where the actual shark attack sequence and the ‘surgery’ scene. The Shallows also had a couple of jump scares that were effective. If we would have gotten more jump scares I would accuse the film of going the easy cliche route, however, since the picture had just the right amount of jump-scares, I was okay with them. The technique that I thought was a bit overused was the slow motion – it overdramatized an already dramatic and scary situation and pushed it towards a cliche, over-the-top cartoon level. The surfing montage at the beginning was cool but the music choice was a bit cheesy – Trouble by Neon Jungle, really? The other song that I remember from the film was Sia’s Bird Set Free. It was a good song for the credits. Sia’s music have been featured in at least 4 films this summer, she is really making her mark in Hollywood. The Shallows instrumental score was great too – it helped a lot to build an anxiety-inducing atmosphere.

Acting

Blake Lively starred as the lead, named Nancy, and did an amazing job. She basically carried this whole movie. She was believable as a sporty surfer and was amazing in all the suspenseful scenes. I especially liked that close-up reaction shot where she supposedly saw the shark attacking that drunk guy. Lively just starred in the new Woody Allen film Cafe Society. She was also really good in last year’s Age of Adaline (that picture have been doing great on streaming). Lively has definitely shed her Gossip Girl persona and is probably doing the best out of all her former castmates. A few unknown Spanish actors, as well as a few familiar faces from TV, played a couple of small supporting roles but, honestly, none of them had enough of screen time for me to talk about them.

In short, The Shallows was an unexpectedly entertaining film, one of the hidden gems of this summer. Blake Lively shined and finally proved herself to be a great actress. The writing and directing were also good for the most part.

Rate: 4/5

Trailer: The Shallows trailer

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