Sicario (2015) Review

Sicario (2015)

Directed by Denis Villeneuve

Starring: Emily Blunt, Benicio del Toro, Josh Brolin, Daniel Kaluuya, Maximiliano Hernández, Victor Garber, Jon Bernthal, Jeffrey Donovan, Raoul Trujillo, Julio Cedillo, Hank Rogerson, Bernardo Saracino

Music by Jóhann Jóhannsson

Cinematography by Roger Deakins

Plot Synopsis: (via Wikipedia)
The film is about a principled FBI agent who is enlisted by a government task force to bring down the leader of a powerful and brutal Mexican drug cartel.

My Opinion:

Ohhh… This movie was GOOD. And to think I wasn’t even necessarily planning on ever watching it! I never really like the crime drama type of genre so, no, this will never exactly be a personal favorite film of mine whereas I LOVE Villeneuve’s Arrival (It’s my favorite genre – So glad he’s going in a sci-fi direction with his movie choices now!!!). But it’s a damn good film even if it’s not usually my sort of thing.

It wasn’t until loving Arrival that I started taking a bit more notice of Villeneuve’s work. It’s why I finally decided to watch Sicario last month (my girl crush on Emily Blunt helped too). I’d already seen a couple of his films and I thought they were pretty good and beautifully filmed but they weren’t really my type of thing either. Wait – I take that back… Enemy was totally my type of thing. I wanted to like that one more than I did. I did appreciate it and think I’d like it more on a re-watch but it was a very slow film & it took a while to get into it. I preferred it to Prisoners, however, but that’s again probably due to me not liking the crime genre. I now really want his Incendies to be one of the next films that I watch for my IMDB Top 250 Project (it’s at #146). With his current popularity I’m hoping it’ll pop up on Netflix or something.

So! Here we are with Sicario – easily my second favorite Villeneuve film I’ve seen so far. I know nothing about filmmaking but this film was beautiful. Those shots of the landscape! It’s a shame that I saw this one on a TV instead of in the cinema. The cinematography & the score created such a rich atmosphere. This combination almost gave me the same sort of feeling as I had while watching Sergio Leone’s Spaghetti Western epics (I liked the Dollars Trilogy & Once Upon A Time In The West WAY more than I ever expected to, especially having no prior Western movie experience).

I can definitely say that I intend to watch everything made by Villeneuve from now on. This is what I like: Movies that feel like true art. It feels like we don’t get enough “epics” nowadays. And they don’t all have to be artsy fartsy – I’d call Mad Max: Fury Road epic & it’ll still be loved & respected years from now. I blame the general public for the lack of very few all-time great films now, though, not the filmmakers. The majority of people wouldn’t have the patience for a Leone film now – they’d rather go to the next Fifty Shades movie. The next Fast & Furious film will make more money than most of the Best Picture nominees put together (Maybe. I dunno. I’m pulling that statistic out of my ass). Sicario isn’t quite up there with the Leone films but it’s getting close. Arrival is at that level (for me, at least). Both Sicario & Arrival will be seen as all-time classics 20 years from now, which can’t be said of many current films. But the Leone films didn’t really get any respect until years later, right? I think these two Villeneuve films, though respected by the filmmaking community right now, will get more recognition in the future. Arrival won’t win Best Picture and, years from now, people will be all “Why didn’t Arrival win Best Picture that year?!”. Oh well – The Academy never gets it right anymore.

I’m rambling, as usual, so I’ll wrap this up by saying a bit more than “This film is pretty & has a great mood!”. I’m one of those weirdos who cares more about a movie’s director than its stars. If the director is awesome and the story is good, the actors probably won’t f*^k up the film. I mean, I suppose a good director isn’t going to let crappy actors be in their film anyway. However, some credit has to be given to the actors in Sicario. Emily Blunt & Benicio del Toro are especially strong in bringing these characters to life.

Blunt, who kicked ass in Edge Of Tomorrow, again plays a great “tough chick” with a believable vulnerability. Her character isn’t perfect, she doesn’t make all the right decisions, she’s not a machine, she does have emotions, but she stays true to her beliefs to the very end. This is actually a very similar character, belief-wise, to the one in Edge Of Tomorrow and I think Blunt plays these “strong yet vulnerable” roles perfectly. Can we have more roles like these for women, please??? Thank you, Villeneuve, for these strong & believable female roles (Btw – I’ll say it again – Amy Adams was ROBBED of an Oscar nomination for Arrival! Grr).

Benicio del Toro also gives his best performance since the dog-faced boy in Big Top Pee-wee (he must get so sick of people saying that). Seriously, though – I’ve always known he was a good actor but I’ve not paid much attention to him. He’s fantastic in this, especially at the end. He kind of blew me away. He plays this thoroughly complex character with such chilling subtlety. Josh Brolin & Daniel Kaluuya also do brilliantly in supporting roles and I loved how the film captured the strong bonds and sense of extreme loyalty between FBI partners.

Sicario’s slow & deliberate build-up of tension and the reveal of character motivations made for one of the most intense final acts I’ve seen in a while. I admit that it took me a while to get into the film as it’s a topic I certainly can’t relate to and a genre I don’t often choose to watch but it’s so well-made with such rich characters & performances and an ending that had me on the edge of my seat (well, couch). This is damn good filmmaking. I want more of this. Please let Blade Runner 2049 be at least this good!

My Rating: 8/10

**Speaking of the lovely Emily Blunt, it’s her 34th birthday tomorrow so I’ll be posting a list of My Top Ten Emily Blunt Movies. 🙂

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Snatch (2000) IMDB Top 250 Guest Review

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Today’s IMDB Top 250 Guest Review comes from Zoe of The Sporadic Chronicles Of A Beginner Blogger. She’s already reviewed The Godfather: Part I (HERE) and Part II (HERE) as well as The Departed (HERE) and The Green Mile (HERE) and Big Fish (HERE). Thanks once again, Zoe – you’re doing way better on this project this year than I am! Wow! 🙂 Now let’s see what she has to say about Snatch, IMDB rank 112 out of 250.

There are still some movies up for grabs if anyone wants to do a guest IMDB Top 250 review. You can find the list of remaining films HERE. See the full list & links to all the reviews that have already been done HERE.

Also, if you’d like to add a link to your IMDB Review(s) on your own blogs, feel free to use any of the logos I’ve used at the top of any of these guest reviews. I know I’ve made a few that are specific to the movie being reviewed. I’ll also do an IMDB update post soon & will post some more logos.

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Yep yep, I am back to plague Miss Mutant here for her IMDB Top 250 Challenge. Definitely provided me with a whole lot of movies to go back to and watch again, though naturally some were enjoyed more than others. Nevertheless, Snatch is definitely a film I have been threatening to go back and watch again for years. I even went as far as to buy it and it has been languishing on my shelf ever since. When nobody selected it for this, I figured now was as good a time as any to get back to it.

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“Yes, London. You know: fish, chips, cup ‘o tea, bad food, worse weather, Mary fucking Poppins… LONDON.” Abraham “Cousin Avi” Denovitz

I am sure most of you have seen Snatch, right? Well, for those of you who haven’t, the best synopsis I could find was the following (pulled from Starpulse): “When a dizzying robbery takes place in the Orthodox Jewish diamond district, a flawless 86-carat gem, the size of an infant’s fist, is lifted in the snatch. Taking it to London, the diamond’s thief and courier, Franky Four Fingers arrives in the city as a stopover en route to New York to deliver the huge diamond to his bigwig crime boss, Avi. But because Franky can’t resist temptation and London is a town with its share of illegal trade, a small crowd of miscreants and malefactors eventually ends up chasing each other and the whereabouts of the diamond. These include: Doug the Head, a jeweller who pretends he’s Jewish because it’s good for business; Boris the Blade, a Russian gangster with a deserved reputation for being impossible to kill; Bullet Tooth Tony, a legendary hard guy and Brick Top, perhaps the scariest of the lot.”

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“I probably know a lot you don’t.” – Franky Four Fingers

Now that we have that out of the way, let us talk about the creation that Guy Ritchie put forth. To say that Snatch has a volume of characters as well as subplots all working their way back into the initial one is an understatement. So much is going on at any given moment that sometimes viewers may find themselves lost upon the way. But stick with it, it all comes together eventually. The cast was really good for what was done here, everyone suiting their character very well. I’m quite a Brad Pitt fan, and I must say his portrayal of Mickey was very funny, he was very entertaining. I also liked how he brought some dimension to the character other than just untrustworthy Pikey. He truly loved his mother, and his reaction to her brutal murder was intense, probably granting the movie its only serious scene, no way to laugh at it, which balanced things out nicely, though it would later give rise to humour again.

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“It’s an unlicensed boxing match. It’s not a tickling competition. These lads are out to hurt each other.” – Turkish

Jason Statham as Turkish and Stephen Graham as Tommy were just classic. Here were two guys that were just seriously not winning, no matter how hard they tried to get things to work for them. As bad as you think their luck is (and truly, it just gets worse and worse), they are easily topped by Vinny (Robbie Gee), his partner Sol (Lennie James), and Tyrone (Ade), their driver. While Turkish and Tommy have crime boss Brick Top (Alan Ford) on their case, the latter trio has Russian gangster Boris the Blade (Rade Šerbedžija) on their tails to track down Franky “Four-Fingers” (Benicio del Toro) and get his briefcase. Boris, in turn, has Abraham “Cousin Avi” Denovitz (Dennis Farina) chasing him down. The diamond has everyone circling themselves, desperate to get it, though initially not everyone is aware of it.

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“You should never underestimate the predictability of stupidity.”  – Bullet Tooth Tony

The humour works for this film, but I have a feeling a lot of what made this so smart and so witty back in the day may be lost to newer audiences, which is a pity, too, because it came together quite well. Be warned that the humour is rather British, too, and I liked that. The movie is fast, the dialogue snappy, and the events entertaining. Snatch is ultimately still a stylish flick, no matter which way you look at it. As much as I enjoyed this film again, it was not the best thing ever, and I didn’t love it as much as I did when I was younger, and I honestly feel there are far better films out there. If you haven’t checked out Snatch, I would still recommend it; you won’t be wasting your time.

Sin City (2005) IMDB Top Guest Review

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Today’s IMDB Top 250 Guest Review comes from Damien of Flashback/Backslide. Thanks for the review, Damien! 🙂 Now let’s see what he has to say about Sin City, IMDB rank 136 out of 250…

There are still some movies up for grabs if anyone wants to do a guest IMDB Top 250 review. You can find the list of remaining films HERE. See the full list & links to all the reviews that have already been done HERE.

Also, if you’d like to add a link to your IMDB Review(s) on your own blogs, feel free to use any of the logos I’ve used at the top of any of these guest reviews. I know I’ve made a few that are specific to the movie being reviewed. I’ll also do an IMDB update post soon & will post some more logos.

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Frank Miller and Robert Rodriguez’s creation is the ultimate marriage of comics and film. Dozens of comic book adaptations hit screens before Sin City and with Hollywood’s habit of churning out superhero films (except for a Deadpool movie) it certainly won’t be the last. But it’s hard to think of another film that embodies the visual style of comics so well. Rodriguez applies his characteristic innovative film-making to capture the imagery and motifs of Miller’s series in a way few other directors could. Even other adaptations of Miller’s works including Zack Snyder’s 300 (2005) and Watchmen (2009), both great in their own right, don’t absorb the visual tendencies like Rodriguez’s tour de force. Like Miller’s other adaptations, Sin City received mixed reviews on initial release, polarizing critics with its hyperviolence and extreme stylization.

When judging the film it is impossible to separate the striking visuals and its unconventional storytelling. The majority of the film is presented in black-and-white but unlike Hitchcock who used lack of color to reduce the violence and gore in Psycho (1960), Rodriguez uses the technique to heighten the violence and draw attention to the gore. Our eyes are drawn to bright red streaks of blood flicking off a grayscale knife or the hot white blood pouring out of Benicio del Toro’s freshly shurikened wrist. Even though the film is in black-and-white, Rodriguez manages to create sequences that feel saturated with color using extreme contrast paired with busy frames filled with multiple shadows and bright foci like Kevin’s (Elijah Wood) glasses, or the bandages littering Marv’s (Mickey Rourke) face and arms. Many scenes go full comic using bright white silhouettes on black backgrounds.

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Rodriguez pairs this visual style with near-constant voice-overs providing slick narration from multiple characters. Here Rodriguez combines Miller’s style with his own penchant for paying homage to films past. In the same way that Rodriguez and Quentin Tarantino’s Grindouse (2007) celebrates B-movies and Rodriguez’s The Faculty (1998) does the same with sci-fi horror (albeit to a lesser extent), Sin City celebrates film noir and old crime films. Well-versed on the genre’s mannerisms, Rodriguez uses them to full effect to breathe life into Miller’s creation. In an earlier post on flashbackbackslide.com we walked through a list of commonly used techniques in noir’s bag of tricks. And Sin City applies them by the fistful. Femme fatales and Sam Spade-type tough guys enter and exit the film continuously, none of them taking a majority of the spotlight. With this arrangement an extensive list of chain-smoking Hollywood A and B-listers sneak onscreen. Mickey Rourke’s scenes as Marv in particular feel like a scene cut out of a Golden Age noir. With a keen eye for quality trench coats and a near indestructibility, Marv alone could fill a board of film noir bingo with his voice-overs:

“She fires up two cigarettes and hands me one and I taste her lipstick on it and suddenly my heart’s pounding so loud I can’t hear anything else.”
-Marv (Mickey Rourke)

The cinematography and shot selections are covered with noir fingerprints. An early scene with Clive Owen, Benicio Del Toro and Brittany Murphy plays out a familiar scenario with Owen out-tough-guying Murphy’s abusive boyfriend Del Toro. Venetian blinds, mirrors, Dutch angles and silhouettes, all tools in the noir kit, are used in this one brief scene, as outlined in the two stills below:

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With Sin City, Miller and Rodriguez have created a space to flex all of their combined creative muscles. After an initial phase of critical uncertainty, time has served the film well and it is now considered an artistic benchmark and one of the best neo-noirs of the last ten years along with Memento (2000), Brick (2005) and Drive (2011). The visual style the film wraps itself in has influenced other films in the genre including 300 (2006), The Spirit (2008), 300: Rise of an Empire (2014) and in some ways Snyder’s Watchmen. We will remember Sin City for this style but the hyperstylization is also what makes the film less enjoyable when judged alone. At times the images are headache-inducing with awkward dull red hues playing on bright white lines. This may also be a stylistic choice but two hours in the world of Sin City’s style can become exhausting.

And the stylistic choices seem to have taken precedence over a coherent and interesting plot as the continuous jolt of storylines tends to be frustrating as we are dropped into sequences with no knowledge of our context or the characters’ relationships. It appears that the trailer recognizes these inconsistencies and tries to sell a single unified plot that really does not exist in the movie. The film’s nonsequential timeline is reminiscent of Pulp Fiction (1994) but far less comprehensible and not nearly as enjoyable. Pulp Fiction presents its story in a deliberate order, controlling the action and tension to maximize the film’s effect. Sin City gives the impression of randomness without cause. During the Pulp Fiction scene when John Travolta and Samuel L. Jackson sit down for breakfast after being hosed down by Harvey Keitel we know that Tim Roth and Amanda Plummer are in the diner and the tension builds as we wait for the chaos to begin. But in Sin City, we see Elijah Wood in a scene even though we already witnessed his death. The problem is that knowing about the previous scene does not add any tension to the later scene like it does in Pulp Fiction.

Part of the plot problems stem from the film’s base in an expanded comic universe which does not serve the story well at times as it cannot hope to contain all the stories of the graphic novels. But the film never sets out to be judged on story alone and puts all its money on style. And the bet pays off in the long run as it is still relevant today especially with its highly anticipated sequel Sin City: A Dame to Kill For coming out soon. It will be interesting to see how the sequel treats its storyline and uses updated visual effects technology but there’s little reason to believe the newest Sin City will be drastically different from the original and will awe us with its visuals while leaving narrative content to be desired.

Rating: 7/10. The sequences with Marv at the beginning of the movie earn a 9/10. After that I found the stories less interesting and the visuals no longer as exciting.

Where to see it: On the best HD TV you can find.

Thanks for reading!

Flashback/Backslide

Guardians Of The Galaxy (2014) Review

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Guardians Of The Galaxy (2014)

Directed by James Gunn


Starring:
Chris Pratt
Zoe Saldana
Dave Bautista
Vin Diesel
Bradley Cooper
Lee Pace
Michael Rooker
Karen Gillan
Djimon Hounsou
John C Reilly
Glenn Close
Benicio del Toro

Running time: 122 minutes

Plot Synopsis: (via Wikipedia)
In Guardians of the Galaxy, Peter Quill forms an uneasy alliance with a group of extraterrestrial misfits who are on the run after stealing a coveted orb. (Thank you, Wikipedia – that was very brief!)

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My Opinion:

If I don’t keep this short like I did with Dawn Of The Planet Of The Apes, I’ll never get around to writing it. I thoroughly enjoyed Guardians Of The Galaxy. A lot. Like with all comic book movies, I have zero knowledge of any of these characters beyond what I’ve seen of them in all these films. As far as “superhero” characters go, I totally bought into these – raccoon & walking tree & all. That’s always what’s most important to me in any film. If I don’t buy into at least one character, it feels like a complete waste of my time. I loved these misfits. Who DOESN’T like a group of loveable misfits? That’s why this movie is such a huge success already.

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Hmm. What else? Groot. I loved Groot! I want my own Groot!!! Chris Pratt & Zoe Saldana were both great. Chris Pratt means nothing to me – No, I’ve not seen this Parks And Recreation thingamabob and I prefer it that way as Peter Quill is all he’ll be to me. Even Bradley Cooper was perfect & he gets on my nerves sometimes. I loved the relationship that formed between these characters.

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Summary:

Guardians Of The Galaxy is just a really really “fun” movie. Yes, I love all the Marvel movies but I really appreciated this slight departure from the seriousness of recent Marvel films. These are comic books! Have some fun! I loved the humor in Guardians Of The Galaxy and think it all worked perfectly. The story was still good, too, and I cared about what would happen to everyone. Maybe it was all a little predictable overall but what movie like this isn’t? This movie made me happy and kept me entertained but also managed to have fantastic characters and genuinely funny moments. Oh – and an awesome soundtrack! This old lady was loving THAT. Bowie! Moonage Daydream, baby! Oh, and of course the scene after the credits… Lol. Stay for that if you want but only those of a certain age will truly appreciate it. I’m of a certain age. 😉

So, basically, I pretty much loved this movie. Yep.

My Rating: 8.5/10

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** There are some fantastic alternate posters out there for this movie! The one I used above is by Matt Ferguson. Also love the two below by Matt Needle & Doaly. See links to these posters & more here: io9.

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The Usual Suspects (1995) IMDB Top 250 Guest Review

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For today’s IMDB Top 250 guest review, we have Lisa of Culturevultureexpress. Lisa got very excited about my IMDB Top 250 project and immediately grabbed a bunch of excellent films to review. Thanks again for joining in, Lisa! 🙂

There are still some movies up for grabs if anyone wants to do a guest IMDB Top 250 review. You can find the list HERE.

Now over to Lisa to see what she has to say about The Usual Suspects, IMDB rank 26 out of 250

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The Usual Suspects was a 1995 slick, intense and perfect crime-thriller. With an All-Star cast which included Kevin Spacey, Gabriel Bryne, Chazz Palminteri and Pete Postlethwaite, the plot, written by the amazingly talented Christopher McQuarrie, was dramatic as it meandered its way through deceit and mystery.

Directed by Bryan Singer, the film centres around Roger “Verbal” Kint, a cripple, and his recalling of events through flashbacks while he is been questioned by the cop Dave Kujan (Palminyeri) after been found at the scene of a drugs heist which has gone drastically wrong with only Verbal and a hospitalized Hungarian crewman and criminal been the only survivors. The drugs belong to the mysterious Keyser Soze, the hero of a children’s horror. Soze is said to have killed his family to show some evil men how determined he was when they threatened his family in a bid to get to him. His name even scares really tough men. He tells how there was a truck hijacking where five suspects including Verbal were arrested by the police. They are a mixture of criminals Dean Keaton (Byrne), Fred Fenster (Benicio Del Toro), Todd Hockney (Kevin Pollak) and Michael McManus (Stephe Baldwin).

Much of the mystery of the story revolves around the identity of Keyser Soze who is a violent mobster who has set these criminals on the path to their deaths with the help of
Mr. Kobayashi (Postlethwaite), Soze’s wing-man who becomes a possible suspect to be Soze due to his cruel and sinister demeanor.

This film is famous for it’s ending and rightly so. I won’t give away the ending. All I will say is that it is the best twist in film history as far as I’m concerned.