Film Review: Sicario (2015)

Release Date: May 19th, 2015 (Cannes)
Directed by: Denis Villeneuve
Written by: Taylor Sheridan
Music by: Johann Johannsson
Cast: Emily Blunt, Benicio del Toro, Josh Brolin, Victor Garber, Jon Bernthal, Daniel Kaluuya, Jeffrey Donovan

Black Label Media, Thunder Road, Lionsgate, 121 Minutes

Review:

“Nothing will make sense to your American ears, and you will doubt everything that we do, but in the end you will understand.” – Alejandro

This is a film that I put off watching because there was a lot of hype about it when it came out. Had I watched it in 2015 or even 2016, I probably would’ve lost my shit.

Reason being, this is nowhere near as good as the critics and my friends led me to believe.

In fact, other than less than a handful of scenes, this is a boring fucking movie that doesn’t seem to have much of a point.

I mean, I get it, the drug cartels in Mexico are fucked up. But I’ve known this and seen this in lots of film and television shows that are far better than this.

With the cast and a very capable director I was expected an intense, badass neo-western in the vein of No Country For Old Men and Hell or High Water. Sadly, this doesn’t hold a candle to those films and it is just a few cool action sequences and one intense dinner scene, strung together with moral babble and Emily Blunt not doing much other than looking offended and confused.

I can see why she didn’t come back for a sequel but her character was completely vacant anyway and it didn’t really matter that she was in this film. And that’s not to knock Blunt, she’s an incredibly capable actress. However, they could’ve just taken all her close ups in this movie, spliced them into the sequel and no one would’ve been the wiser, as she is just sort of in the film as an observer and moral compass.

Now I can’t completely shit on the film. The high points were actually good and intense. The dinner scene has incredible tension but at the same time, the end result of that scene is not shocking and has little effect. It’s more fucked up than shocking.

Also, the cinematography and shot framing were incredible. This is a good looking film from start to finish and that’s probably its biggest positive. But I can get these things in a music video from a talented director of photography. Alluring visuals are great and they are important but they can’t be the sole driving force of a film.

For instance, The Revenant was visually breathtaking but none of that would’ve mattered if the rest of the film was a crap factory.

I absolutely love the modernized western film but they are really hard to do well. Sicario doesn’t deliver on much but I’ll still probably check out the sequel just to review it.

Rating: 6/10
Pairs well with: the sequel and other neo-westerns, most of which are better than this.

Film Review: The Black Panther (2018)

Release Date: January 29th, 2018 (Dolby Theatre premiere)
Directed by: Ryan Coogler
Written by: Ryan Coogler, Joe Robert Cole
Based on: Black Panther by Stan Lee, Jack Kirby
Music by: Ludwig Göransson
Cast: Chadwick Boseman, Michael B. Jordan, Lupita Nyong’o, Danai Gurira, Martin Freeman, Daniel Kaluuya, Letitia Wright, Winston Duke, Angela Bassett, Forest Whitaker, Andy Serkis, Sebastian Stan (cameo)

Marvel Studios, Walt Disney Studios, 147 Minutes

Review:

“The world is changing. Soon there will only be the conquered and the conquerors. You are a good man, with a good heart. And it’s hard for a good man to be a king.” – King T’Chaka

*There be spoilers here!

The world around me turned Black Panther into a political and social film. I wanted to go into it and just enjoy it for what it is, whether the end result was good or bad. But you’ve got Hollywood and and critics pimping it out like its the greatest superhero film of all-time. While that happens almost every time a new Marvel movie comes out, there was the SJW twist this time, just as there was with Wonder Woman. On the flip side of that, there were the anti-SJW whiners who were trying to trash the film before seeing it and even going as far as to sabotage ratings and reviews on interactive movie websites.

I just wanted to see this movie and judge it on its own merits. I had to shut out the outside world (thankfully I deactivated my Facebook long ago) and I had to walk into the theater, sit down and experience this film for myself and without prejudice, bias or some sort of white male guilt weighing heavy on my brain because the media wants to constantly remind me what I’m responsible for throughout history.

All bullshit aside, I thought Black Panther was pretty damn good. Now I didn’t like it as much as the last Thor movie or as much as those Guardians of the Galaxy pictures, but this is certainly one of the best Marvel movies to take place on Earth. Granted, most of this takes place in the fictional and fantastical nation of Wakanda but it is very much a movie about our home planet.

What makes Black Panther so interesting and probably really gratifying and inspirational for black people, is that it shows black people being at the forefront of trying to fix the world’s problems. It shows that they’ve always had something of extreme value to offer but because of the state of the rest of the world, have withheld it and kept it safe. Sure, it’s metaphor, but it’s an effective metaphor and has a deeper meaning than just being a plot device created by Marvel Comics decades ago.

I have been a massive fan of Chadwick Boseman since I saw him play Jackie Robinson in the grossly underappreciated 42. Seeing him get to star in a film directed by Ryan Coogler, alongside Coogler’s go-to guy Michael B. Jordan, was something I couldn’t pass up, regardless of what this movie was about. And luckily, for us, Boseman and Jordan have good chemistry and both actors carry each other to a higher level.

The philosophical differences between Boseman’s Black Panther and Jordan’s Killmonger are both clearly understood and, as a viewer, you respect Panther’s vision of keeping the peace but it is hard to not get swept into the emotion and justice Killmonger feels he needs to enact. Part of me actually hoped that the two would fight it out and would both survive and diplomatically find a solution together. I mean, they’re long lost cousins and it was obvious Killmonger was reconsidering his iron clad stance in those final moments, where a part of him learned to love his true king and cousin.

The rest of the cast is exceptional, especially the three main ladies.

It was nice seeing Lupita Nyong’o playing a human being and not a motion capture character. While I enjoyed her work in Star Wars and The Jungle Book, I haven’t seen her in much else. It was nice being able to feel connected to her and her performance in a more organic way. Danai Gurira, who I really only know from The Walking Dead, finally got a role that allowed her to break free from just being known as sword-wielding badass Michonne. Letitia Wright was probably my favorite person in the film, overall. She played the Panther’s sister, was a scientist and also got into the thick of it and proved that she is far from being just some damsel in distress; she is a friggin’ warrior.

The rest of the cast is comprised of Martin Freeman, playing the same role he did in Captain America: Civil War, Forest Whitaker, Angela Bassett and Daniel Kaluuya, in his first role since Get Out. Newcomer Winston Duke was great as Panther’s rival, M’Baku. He is a warrior king from the mountains who challenges Panther for the throne but ultimately, is instrumental in helping Black Panther save Wakanda.

It was really cool seeing Andy Serkis return as the villain Klaw, who was briefly seen in Avengers: Age of Ultron. It’s also always fun to see Serkis play a character that is him, in the flesh. He’s synonymous with motion capture characters so we don’t often get to see his actual face in a big blockbuster film. He was superb as Ulysses Klaue a.k.a. Klaw. His personality was infectious and insane. In all honesty, Marvel has had a hard time of creating great villains but Serkis’ Klaw is now one of my favorites. I just wish Marvel would stop killing all the baddies because we’ll never get a Masters of Evil story that way.

As far as the film’s look, it is pristine and beautiful. Wakanda is one of the most enchanting places in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. The special effects and cinematography are spectacular and there isn’t a shot in the film that doesn’t look like it wasn’t meticulously crafted.

Black Panther was a film that came in with a lot of hype and a lot of political and social concerns. Getting beyond that and staring into its core, it is a fine film, crafted by a solid, up and coming director who has already accomplished a lot with only three pictures under his belt. I hope that Coogler returns for the eventual sequel.

Rating: 8/10
Pairs well with: Captain America: Civil War and presumably Avengers: Infinity War and its sequel, once they come out.

Film Review: Get Out (2017)

Release Date: January 24th, 2017 (Sundance)
Directed by: Jordan Peele
Written by: Jordan Peele
Music by: Michael Abels
Cast: Daniel Kaluuya, Allison Williams, Lil Rel Howery, Bradley Whitford, Caleb Landry Jones, Stephen Root, Catherine Keener, Erika Alexander

Blumhouse Productions, QC Entertainment, Monkeypaw Productions, Universal Pictures, 103 Minutes

Review:

“Man, I told you not to go in that house.” – Rod Williams

I wanted to see this in the theater but a lot was going on back in February-March. I went to a wedding out of state when this came out and then March was full of a ton of big new movies each week. So, unfortunately, Get Out was lost in the shuffle. But I did successfully avoid any and all spoilers because I wanted to experience this not knowing more than what was in the first trailer. I’m so glad I didn’t have it spoiled.

That being said, it is impossible to discuss this film without spoiling some of the details. Consider this a warning, if you haven’t yet seen Get Out. You definitely should go into this movie knowing as little as possible.

This picture is an incredibly unique experience. While it focuses on racism, it doesn’t showcase it in the way that you’d assume. This is really the first movie that I have seen that displays a more modern and realistic approach to how racism has evolved in America.

Get Out takes a serious look at how the guilt-ridden white middle class has this ideology that they have to atone for what their ancestors have done to blacks in the United States. They’re the type of people that have to add their voice to the voice of black America, often times yelling over them in an effort to show that they aren’t their parents or grandparents. They’re down, they get it and damn it, they’ll do everything to try and improve blacks’ lives whether blacks want them to or not. They force their helping hand into everything even though blacks didn’t ask for it. They overcompensate to the extreme because the weight of our nation’s history is too heavy for them to bear. But the result of this, is white people, despite their good intentions, taking it upon themselves to control black lives. It undermines the plight of black people and their fight. Is it any better to say, “We treated you like shit but get on our backs now, we’re going to keep you above the water.”

The point is, Get Out raises a lot of questions and exposes a lot of issues regarding race relations in today’s America. It brings things to the forefront that have never been showcased in this way. It looks at how America has changed since having its first black president and how the social issues in this country are a lot more complex than trying to force a Band-Aid on a massive boo-boo.

The film conveys all this through the motivations of the sinister characters in the film. And frankly, it is all summed up in one line of dialogue around the middle of the film when Stephen Root’s Jim Hudson says to Daniel Kaluuya’s Chris Washington, and I’m paraphrasing here, that “These people mean well but they’ve never really lived lives.”

The way that the film is able to convey these ideas is absolutely brilliant and even though I liked Jordan Peele before he wrote and directed this picture, I’m a much bigger fan now. A lot of the credit also has to go to the cast. Everyone was pretty much perfect.

The real weight of the picture rests on the shoulders of Daniel Kaluuya, though. He gave one of the best performances I have seen in years. Between the way he was able to connect with the audience compounded by how truly screwed up his situation was, I was completely overwhelmed by the emotion and the tension. Get Out is one of the most suspenseful and nerve-racking motion pictures I have ever seen. That’s a testament to the skill of Peele behind the camera, behind the pen and Kaluuya on the screen.

The performances by Allison Williams, Bradley Whitford, Catherine Keener, Caleb Landry Jones, Stephen Root and all the other townspeople were stellar. Lil Rel Howery was perfection as the much needed comic device in the film. Without him, the film may have been way too heavy. His character of Rod always showed up at the right time just to ease up on some of the tension. His scene with Erika Alexander is especially great.

Jordan Peele should feel a real sense of accomplishment for this film. He’s created a modern masterpiece and done more in just this one film than what most filmmakers do over the course of their whole careers. I really regret not seeing this in the theater, as it is now the best new film that I’ve seen in 2017.