This is a Land of Wolves Now in Sicario

Sicario Poster

In Roman ruled Judea, Jewish zealots used daggers hidden in cloaks to kill their oppressors and were thus dubbed in Latin…”Sicarious”…or dagger men.  Though most of the killing in Denis Villeneuve’s latest master class in vexatious suspense is done with machine guns, there’s a climax building scene where cinematographer god Roger Deakins photographs the character Alejandro (Benicio Del Toro) descending into the purple-hued darkness of a drug tunnel as he unsheathes a dagger that will make your skin scrawl.

Alejandro is man of mysterious motives and origins who with the aid of another “DOD consultant” – an eager and smiley Josh Brolin – is determined to ruffle some feathers of a cartel based in Juarez that’s been wreaking havoc as far north as Phoenix, where kidnap retrieval field agent Kate (a tense Emily Blunt) has been recently recruited for these clandestine missions after uncovering a cartel body-dump on her home turf.  Meanwhile on the other side of the border, mild-mannered and weary cop Silvio (Maximiliano Hernandez) tries to balance playing football with his adoring son with the unfortunate mechanics of working for the cartel from hell. Continue reading

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Avoiding Dark Unspeakable Hippy Horrors with Inherent Vice

Inherent Vice

After There Will Be Blood and The Master, Paul Thomas Anderson deserved to take a break, didn’t he?  He pulled off a similar lark after Boogie Nights and Magnolia when he directed “his version” of an Adam Sandler film with Punch -Drunk Love.  Much like the main character Doc Sportello has to dig deeper and deeper for the truth in this hippy noir, viewers have to dig deep to find any of screenwriter Anderson’s trademark themes in Inherent Vice.  Maybe there’s something about makeshift dysfunctional families here?  Having never read Thomas Pynchon’s source material, I can only assume all the darkly hilarious dope-fuelled and sometimes absurd banter is pealed straight from his novel (especially Joanna Newsom’s most pleasing to the ear voice-over work) as I felt and heard none of Anderson here.

This is a true adaptation handled with artistic care.  Where one does find the director Anderson is in the visuals, pacing and music. Longtime collaborator Robert Elswit evocatively photographs this Gordita Beach 1970 set rambling comic-mystery with gritty stock, soft blues and hints of sunset orange.  He does special wonders with the beautiful actresses in their groovy and revealing period garb and make-up (look at those pores!).  Anderson peppers in his always great taste in period music, while Jonny Greenwood provides a score unlike any he’s previously done, sweetly nostalgic and understated, perfectly accentuating the cool mood of the film.

In the lead role of Doc Sportello, Joaquin Phoenix gives the comedic performance of the year as the most howlingly expressive stoner detective ever to grace to the screen.  Yet the film is very much an ensemble piece, so much so it’s hard to pick out the highlights from the carnival of stars. Continue reading

Making the Case for Susanne Bier

Danish director Susanne Bier allows her work to speak for itself...if you would just take the time to watch and listen.

Interconnected stories, family secrets, dead or absent parents, broken relationships, emotional distress, and people struggling to reconcile the stubbornness of their ideals with the harsh nature of their realities — these are the recurrent themes in the works of Susanne Bier.

Danish auteur Susanne Bier is the greatest female director working today.

There, I said it. And why do I have to qualify my statement by pointing out that she is a female director — why can’t she just be one of the greatest directors working today? Well, I would argue that she is. But female directors often don’t get a fair shake. Let’s be honest. It’s a man’s world out there, especially when it comes to directing and producing films. Also, while female directors are just as capable of honing their own unique styles as their male counterparts are, they often have a harder time expanding their horizons outside of the niche they build for themselves. Hence we have Sofia Coppola seemingly lost inside the dreamy world of privileged princesses, Nicole Holofcener quite pleased sticking to her astute dissections of bi-coastal bourgeois guilt, and glass-ceiling breaker Kathryn Bigelow hellbent on directing almost every film as if it was a personal f-you to her ex-husband James Cameron and all the big boys out there who think women can’t direct from a man’s point of view.

Meanwhile, male contemporaries of Bier’s like Lars Von Trier or Joe Wright create visuals just as experimental as Bier but have consistently applied their signature avant-garde styles to films across genres and outside of any niche (though one could make an argument that lately Von Trier has been trapped inside his own personal hell). Wright’s ability to put his stamp on films as seemingly disparate as Pride & Prejudice and Hanna is something no female director I know of has been able to do (which isn’t to say they can’t).

All that aside, I’ve never met a Bier film I didn’t like…a lot. In many ways she does for family melodramas what Christopher Nolan has done for crime thrillers. In fact, she seems to enjoy repeatedly killing husbands (see plotlines below) with as much relish as Nolan enjoys killing wives.
Continue reading

A Review of The Wolfman

Emily Blunt breaks from the pack in THE WOLFMAN.

Finally…a horror film for old people.  Remember back in the early 1990’s when Columbia (do they even exist anymore?) tried to revive the old Universal Horror Films by using Francis Ford Coppola’s gloriously trippy Bram Stoker’s Dracula as their flagship film?  I can recall being a precocious kid and seeing the film with my parents when it opened in the theaters around Thanksgiving.  And I remember the audience being half filled with senior citizens who were all enthralled, half achy with nostalgia and half scared out of their wits.  My parents, the old folks, my friends and I…we all ate it up back then.  It was a hip, fun, scary ride totally tricked-out with every old-fashioned cinematic trick Coppola could conjure, loaded with sex and gore and over-the-top scenery chewing performances.  Dialed way down and about fifteen years late, but brimming with that same sense of fogged-covered nostalgia mixed with modern gore, Joe Johnston’s gleefully un-hip update of The Wolfman would’ve been the perfect follow-up film to Bram Stoker’s Dracula.  Heck, we even have Anthony Hopkins — Van Helsing himself — chewing more scenery than we’ve seen him chew in years as the senior member of the cursed Talbot clan.  Continue reading

A Review of “Things We Lost in the Fire”

In 2004 it was Birth.  In 2005 it was The New World.  In 2006 it was Marie AntoinetteThings We Lost in the Fire was the most unfairly dismissed and overlooked film of 2007.  Most audiences go to movies for escapism, and Things We Lost in the Fire flew in the face of that notion and dealt with subject matter that never lights the box office on fire but deserves to find its audience on DVD.

CAPTION:  Shhhh, Halle Berry, go to sleep.  No one needs to know you were in a movie that was actually good.

One Day at a Time…, 4 May 2008
8/10
Author: David H. Schleicher from New Jersey, USA

Sometimes you have to view movies one day at a time. As a film buff, I have to take the good with the bad. Danish director Susanne Bier’s first American venture, Things We Lost in the Fire is one of those surprisingly good human dramas that often gets lost in the shuffle and doesn’t receive the credit it deserves.

When Audrey (Halle Berry) loses her husband (David Duchovny) in a tragic Good Samaritan act gone bad, she deals with her grief in an unexpected way by inviting his drug-addicted best friend Jerry (Benicio Del Toro) to come live with her and her two young children while he “gets on his feet.” Featuring a music score designed to remind people of 21 Grams (which also starred Del Toro and played with many of the same themes) and interesting cinematography full of extreme close-ups and small visual details designed to evoke intimacy and realism, Things We Lost in the Fire delicately mirrors Audrey’s grief process against Jerry’s rocky recovery.

The film is far from perfect as it sometimes deals with subjects (especially the scenes where Jerry is withdrawing from heroin) in a clichéd manner. Berry also struggles as she seems to underact in some of the more poignant scenes as a way to balance her overacting in some of the more theatrical scenes. However, her performance as an organic whole is very strong, and her character and her family feel and look “real.” The things they say and the way they deal with their situations are raw and heartfelt without ever being sappy or sensationalistic. The kids are naturalistic, and they actually look like they could be the children of Berry and Duchovny. Del Toro is once again a revelation, and his performance speaks volumes with his mannerisms and facial expressions as he attempts to reconcile his sad past with a hopeful future. Sadly, his tour de force was overlooked by every end of the year awards in 2007.

The bread and butter, however, is in the small details. Things We Lost in the Fire uses visual motifs, side stories, character foils, mirroring, and nuanced repetition in dialog as ways to develop grander themes. This is the stuff of great novels, and rarely do we find it attempted in film. What could have easily been dismissed as a melodramatic weeper turns out instead to be something quite good. The overlapping closing scenes where Berry speaks not a word while coming in from the rain, and Del Toro delivers a rehab monologue that gives quite possibly the most honest insight into addiction and recovery ever captured on screen, is a hauntingly hopeful mosaic of small moments. Yes, there were some moments of formulaic Hollywood gobbily-gook and some moments of strained drama, but these closing moments are real. They are good, and we as human beings (as film goers) have to learn to accept the good.

Originally Published on the Internet Movie Database:

http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0469623/usercomments-43