SICARIO

sicario

Directed by Denis Villeneuve

With a few feature films already snug tightly under his belt, Denis Villeneuve continues to be one of the most interesting directors working at the moment. Making films which could easily have become mild popcorn fare in a lesser-director’s hands, Villeneuve demands absolute control, with a tight focus on tension and drama, whilst bringing out the best of his actors. Bathed in darkness, the film – exquisitely shot by Roger Deakins – plays less like a procedural action thriller, and more like a slow-burning revenge western. The anti-hero in this case, Alejandro (Benicio Del Toro), absolutely chews up the screen in every scene he has – a modern-day Lee Van Cleef. Those perhaps looking for a more detailed examination into the cartels and the drug war should probably look elsewhere, because Sicario is more intent on being a work of art: an examination of fear, desperation, revenge and power. Sicario sets itself apart from other stories on the drug cartels with it’s amazing use of silence: there’s nothing more terrifying. Denis Villeneuve is currently set to direct Blade Runner 2, with Roger Deakins as director of photography. A cinephile’s wet dream.

A

CLOUDS OF SILS MARIA

Directed by Olivier Assayas

Clouds of Sils Maria feels like a film that rewards multiple viewings. It constantly feels like it’s a few steps ahead of you, which may irritate depending on who you are, but for those who enjoy a bit of mental gymnastics, Clouds should prove a satisfying, Bergman-esque experience, if not becoming a bit too self-reflexive and insular on occasion. A voyeuristic look into the process of fading stardom within the film industry and the struggle to stay relevant within a system that thrives less on artistic skill as a commodity, but rather current trends and the celebrity zeitgeist. The lead performances are mesmerising, and rightfully so, as the pain their characters feel becomes more and more apparent as they slowly come to terms with how little control they ultimately have in deciding their fate.

B+

IT FOLLOWS

Directed by David Robert Mitchell

It Follows is a success in many ways. As a clever take on the horror genre, it doesn’t try to reinvent the wheel, but uses the genre as means for sharp social commentary. It succeeds in controlling and manipulating the kind of fear that most young people in this generation experience: anxiety (is it more terrifying to discover that you have an STI, or to be convinced you have it every single day for the rest of your life?). It does all of this with a budget of only two million dollars. I think I had my expectations high after reading all the hype about the film, and though it didn’t quite match those expectations, I still admire how far this tiny horror film has spread around the world, giving faith to independent filmmakers everywhere. Also, great synth soundtrack.

B

THE DROP

Directed by Michael R. Roskam

Tom Hardy and James Gandolfini in a film together is a recurring wet dream of mine, and in The Drop it finally came true. This is an actor’s film: the beauty of it lies in the physicality of the actors and how they could be thinking and acting contradictorily at almost every turn. The film doesn’t have quite the climax one would hope for, but watching these actors work is worth price of admission alone.

B+

THE HUNGER GAMES: MOCKINGJAY PART 1

Directed by Francis Lawrence

The newest instalment of the Hunger Games brings us probably exactly what we expected, which may or not be a good thing depending on who you are. The film offers great performances, production design and ramps up the stakes, but can’t escape feeling like the film “in-between” the things we really want to see.

B

NIGHTCRAWLER

Directed by Dan Gilroy

Jake Gyllenhaal absolutely disappears into the titular role of Nightcrawler, a clever, pulsating film about the destructive nature of success. This film is the car crash that you can’t look away from, out of sheer sublime terror. Thankfully, there is still a beating heart amongst the darkness, thanks to the supporting character of Richard (Riz Ahmed): the filmmaker’s have done their subject matter proud whilst keeping the proceedings absolutely electric.

A

TWO DAYS, ONE NIGHT

Directed by Jean-Pierre & Luc Dardenne

It’s an admirable skill, being able to create tension and drama out of realistic and domestic situations, a craft the Dardenne brothers have continued to perfect with each film. The film doesn’t waste anytime setting up backstory or character: straight-away we’re launched into the dramatic situation of our protagonist (played brilliantly by Marion Cotillard), as she has to find the courage to fight for herself and her family. It’s a film that presents us with real, moral complexities: a film where everybody has something to lose. The Dardenne brothers have created something incredibly broad and complex out of something which would only seem to be a minor detail in the fabric of our lives. I hope they continue to do so.

A-

PRIDE

Directed by Matthew Warcus

I always wonder how screenwriters go about turning a real-life story into a feature film: mostly in the difficulties deciding where to take liberty with the truth in order to strengthen narrative. A relatively by-the-numbers account of a true story, Pride still bolsters a keen eye for period detail, and a strong cast having a great time on screen. Unfortunately, it didn’t quite manage to elevate itself higher than delivering a story that we’ve seen before.

C+

22 JUMP STREET

Directed by Phil Lord & Christopher Miller

I remember really enjoying how self-aware 21 Jump Street was. It never took itself seriously and the film was better off. This time around, it felt as though there was almost no plot, and the film just kept getting stuck in “this is a sequel” mode, and I felt the film suffered because of it. It’s fine if you have hard-hitting jokes, but the plot was really half-baked and ended up making the film sloppy. I also have to state that I felt that the film itself looked quite ugly, especially in comparison to another recent comedy “Bad Neighbours”. Hill and Tatum still have great chemistry though, so it’s just unfortunate that although they had a bigger budget, the film ended up feeling cheaper than it’s predecessor.

C+

HOW TO TRAIN YOUR DRAGON 2

Directed by Dean DeBlois

Watching this film meant the world to me. I’ve grown up parallel to Hiccup and Toothless, and I distinctly remember thinking four years ago how I’d be 20 when the sequel came out. Well, the time has passed, and my heart is still attached to the wonderful world and characters Dreamworks has crafted.¬†As a sequel, the film feels like it can stand on it’s own two feet – Empire Strikes Back comes to mind – with many gorgeous moments and absolutely breathtaking animation. In expanding the world, a few minor characters had to take a backseat this time around, but I really can’t complain about a film this beautiful. Toothless 4eva.

A+