Category Archives: Action

TIFF Review: Sicario (2015)

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Violent, tense, and above all absorbing, ‘Sicario’ finds French-Canadian director Dennis Villeneuve at the height of his prowess. Led by an emotional and honest performance from Emily Blunt and especially magnetic, ruthless work from Benicio Del Toro; this action juggernaut is a must-see, even if its unflinching visuals may be difficult for some to swallow.

Relentless from start to finish, a somber, looming tone cloaks Dennis Villeneuve’s thriller in risk and secrecy. Aided by Roger Deakins ghostly, majestic cinematography and Jóhann Jóhannsson’s penetrating, ominous, intimidating score. ‘Sicario’ is an exhausting, inescapable experience.

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Supported impeccably by Josh Brolin and a slew of precise tactical performances by the film’s gunslingers. ‘Sicario’ might just be the most effective, entrancing piece of war cinema since Kathryn Bigelow’s ‘Zero Dark Thirty.’

Taylor Sheridan’s horrifying, entertaining, narratively-complex story and devastating, memorable dialogue effortlessly elevates the intensity and execution in Blunt, Del Toro, and Brolin’s performances. Additionally allowing Villeneuve and Deakins to truly explore and excel behind the camera.

‘Sicario’ has Roger Deakins in award-season form and features some of the master cinematographer’s finest work. Most notably, a night-vision sequence that gets the heart racing and palms sweating.

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The delicacy and boldness in Blunt’s performance cannot be understated. Imperative and determined, Blunt’s Macer mimics the viewer’s terrified, meddlesome mindset, expertly holding their attention as if you sit fastened in the interrogation chair.

Outshining his co-stars’ already blinding brilliance, Benicio Del Toro’s ferocious, smothering, calculated anti-hero is a performance to contemplate and savour. Exercising the actor’s formidable charisma, ‘Sicario’ catapults Del Toro back into the working elite.

Uncompromising, thought-provoking, and brutally straightforward, ‘Sicario’ is unmissable.

Sicario: 9.5 out of 10.

TIFF Review: High-Rise (2015)

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High-Rise (2015)

Godzilla (2014)

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Whether you’re a casual filmgoer or a diehard cinephile, it’s deceitfully easy to get caught up in hype, no matter how adamant one may oppose influence. The truth is, usually it isn’t even external pressures that wind up persuading us to a predetermined conclusion. We form our own biases, niches, and preferences, completely devoid of any convincing, leverage, or sway originating from peers, media, society, etc… Either way, a genuine, uninhibited opinion, free from preconceived notions is nearly impossible to form nowadays. And as much as I’d like to be one of the remaining few who can birth such a rarity, I cannot. I found myself lost amidst the chaos and destruction of “Godzilla’s” mammoth awareness campaign a few months beforehand, even as far back as the comic-con teaser released roughly a year ago. Needless to say, the sheer size of this beast and the terror insinuated through the film’s publicity endeavours snagged me irrevocably.

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Originally what drew me to Gareth Edwards’ “Godzilla” reboot was the foreboding magnitude and apocalyptic nature of the film’s teasers and trailers. To be honest, the disgraceful, cliche-infested outing from 1998 still left a distinctly potent, gag-inducing taste in my mouth, and I was eagerly looking to wash it out. That being said, apart from Edwards himself, this revamping didn’t exactly have me from the get go. As I mentioned, the debacle starring the wonderful Jean Reno still lingered and the cast chosen for this reimagining left a lot to be desired. Not that I dislike any specific member of the ensemble, I just thought that those chosen weren’t able to handle the spotlight individually, so I remained slightly skeptical still. However, the helplessness and disturbing reality of the film’s tone towards humanities extinction overwhelmed me. Combine that with the monstrous, sky-scraper size of the creature itself and its defining, eardrum shattering roar…and I was won over.

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Heading into the theatre on opening weekend (surprise), there was only one thing on my mind. Did “Godzilla” keep its tone and atmosphere? I was very much on board with Edwards’ vision that would introduce the original movie monster into the modern day and I ached with anticipation, hoping he could pull it off. Unfortunately, upon conclusion, I don’t know what’s more tragic, the fact that Edwards didn’t fully realize the film I was hoping for, or that he almost did. Edwards is a talented filmmaker no doubt. “Monsters” is something to be immensely proud of, in my opinion. With “Godzilla” however, it does feel as if the plausibility and human aspect of the film clashed with the typical monster goodness we’ve come to expect from the “Godzilla” franchise. While both segments are individually entertaining, together, they didn’t meld as seamlessly as I’d hoped.

No one is readily to blame, and by no means is the film’s lacklustre delivery Edwards’ fault. I’ve simply deduced that plausibility and “Godzilla” (and everything that comes with it) do not go hand-in-hand. I feel that what I envisioned before seeing the film is precisely what Edwards’ wanted to end up on screen. Sadly, I struggle to imagine a scenario in which “Godzilla” and humanity co-exist, both thematically and physically on screen.

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As I stated earlier, the film can be separated into two segments. For roughly the first forty minutes, there’s little-to-no action, something I didn’t anticipate heading in. Drama takes centre stage and while consistently captivating, the characters aren’t nearly compelling enough. Because the characters are so bland and their stories, predictable, the cast feels like a slapped-together ensemble of supporting players. This should never be the case when you’ve got the likes of Bryan Cranston, Elizabeth Olsen, Ken Watanabe, David Strathairn, and Aaron-Taylor Johnson at your disposal. All critique and judgement aside though, the cast does do their best with what they’re given, it’s just that not one of their performances will be remembered years down the road. Thankfully however, those who comprise the cast are talented enough and have already proven their worth, so we shouldn’t worry about their future being affected by this film.

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Now, for a significant chunk of this review, I’ve been rather neutral to negative. The truth is, in the same breathe that I harshly judge Edwards’ reboot, I applaud it for making an action film watchable again, for me anyway. I’m not the biggest fan of the genre and I don’t give top marks for sublime CGI. Most films try to pass on their looks alone, and while “Godzilla” is stunning to look at, it doesn’t solely rely on this fact. Even though it becomes, rather ironically, the only admirable trait of the film. Although its ambition and scale are rather stupendous in their own right, but not to the same effect. The best way to watch this giant-monster flick is to throw every preconceived notion aside and take it for what it is. It’s an action film with gigantic monsters and Edwards does the illustrious lizard and his companions justice. After all, we’re all here for the big guy and nothing else, although some memorable character turns would have been a nice addition.

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“Godzilla” delivers what we’re ultimately paying to see, but is rather lacklustre otherwise. One can’t help but feel that the premise and cast went to waste. That being said, we get enough of a look at the big guy and the carnage that ensues to make Edwards’ “Godzilla” worth the watch and immensely more successful than the 1998 debacle.

Godzilla: 7 out of 10.

The Raid 2 (2014)

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I’m sure you’re all familiar with the old adage regarding the breathing of new life into an existing concept. For those of you who this maxim escapes, it essentially states that someone or something has successfully revitalized, imbued, or revolutionized what had universally become the standard. I decided to clarify this aphorism immediately seeing as it is excruciatingly similar to what Gareth Evans has done to action cinema with his past success “The Raid” and his latest, unfathomable triumph, “The Raid 2.” Yes, Evans’ incomparable genius removed any footing the rapidly deteriorating genre stood upon. And as if that wasn’t enough, once he quite handily did away with the infuriatingly brainless and bombastic abomination the once beloved action genre became, Evans, with “The Raid 2” persisted to choke, beat, and mutilate his way to superseding his own previous best in a cyclic manner, as if to taunt any challenging newcomers, to make it painfully clear that the best is yet to come…

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PLOT:

Approximately two hours after the first film ends, Rama goes undercover and infiltrates the ranks of a ruthless Jakarta crime syndicate in order to protect his family and to uncover the corruption in his own police force.

As impressively choreographed and executed Evans sophomore effort may be, his follow up “The Raid 2” is a masterful expedition into extreme hand-to-hand combat and ultra-savagery. With brutal, occasionally disturbing violence and a limitless supply of unbelievably detailed gore, the slaughter throughout “The Raid 2” is mercilessly relentless and joyfully excessive. And while there’s no doubt that Evans’ latest will leave viewers exhilarated and gleefully gasping for air by the time it’s concluded, there are a few scenes that might force even the toughest SOB to cringe and gag. Yes, a steel baseball bat lodged in between a man’s jaw or the continuous burning of a man’s face on a fully-heated grill is but a sample of the viciousness that awaits you in “The Raid 2.” Granted, beautifully sadistic scenes such as those mentioned don’t occur all too frequently, but it is something that you’ll need to prepare for.

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Clocking in at a daunting one hundred and fifty minutes, it wouldn’t surprise me in the slightest if fanboys of “The Raid,” which finished around the one hundred and five minute mark, would be a little too frightened by its sequel’s massive runtime to undertake it. With this new allotment of time, Evans has expanded on the original story and list of characters, making for a much more fluent, intricate, captivating experience, one that isn’t simply just run-and-gun. It sets it’s primary focus on an intense, intelligent, ruthless crime-family drama, causing stimulation to not only occur physically, but mentally as well. That being said, “The Raid 2” does tend to drag occasionally, but when compared to the film’s immense list of successes, any complaint about slight mistakes or the story’s encompassing complexity is easily forgotten.

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“The Raid 2” strays from the simple, easy to follow narrative that, in my opinion, hampered its predecessor, if only slightly. While this monstrously entertaining sequel does rely heavily on its action sequences to drive it forward, it provides enough substance for viewers to sink their teeth into. Allowing characters to become more three-dimensional and each scene to build and progress on the former, ultimately resulting in every new segment trumping the previous. For example, the violence and gore continuously ascends, becoming more deplorable, complex, and immeasurable, eventually reaching the crescendo. A tactic that will have you picking your jaw up off the floor. Additionally, the musical accompaniment throughout the film is something supremely identifiable. So much so that you’ll be confused as to what exactly got your heart racing, the action or the music.

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Now, if there’s one thing that “The Raid” series isn’t known for, it has to be acting. Granted, Evans has expanded the emotional range needed to partake in his action series juggernaut and the change is quite noticeable. Our antihero portrayed by the immensely talented Iko Uwais has several scenes in which he must display an array of varying emotions, albeit a restricted spectrum. Yet, the addition of a more emotional diverse and demanding story creates its own paradox. The level of talent needed to convey effectively what Evans is hoping to achieve with this intricate mafioso thriller is much higher than his typical cast can provide. So really, in order to complete this change, one would need to concede some action for substance, a sacrifice I don’t think Evans or fans are willing to make. Nevertheless, the attempt is admirable to say the least. That being said, if you’re going to see “The Raid 2” for its acting, it’s probably best you don’t see it at all.

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For a film with an unbelievable sense of chaos, “The Raid 2” is surprisingly, yet certainly a controlled burn. Bursting with eye-popping action sequences, a respectable story, and stomach-churning visuals, Evans latest is a cinematic feast that all may not be able to enjoy, but at the very least revere. And since it is an action film, a genre in which I don’t usually get along with, I’m giving “The Raid 2” bonus points for being, quite possibly the greatest action film I’ve ever seen.

The Raid 2: 9.5 out of 10.

 

Captain America: The Winter Soldier (2014)

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It seems as if we’ve been getting a new entry into the Marvel film canon at least once or twice a year for the last little while now. And with rumours swirling that the filmmaking titan has its universe mapped out until the year 2028, you either get on board now or be forever lost in the immense, intertwining reaches of this comic book behemoth. Hell, Marvel Studios even has Sony Pictures and 20th Century Fox undertaking some of the responsibility! Yes, with “Captain America: The Winter Soldier” breaking the box office opening weekend record for April, the television show “Agents of Shield” going steady, “Guardians of the Galaxy” picking up steam on all social platforms, and “Avengers: Age of Ultron” production well under way, it looks as if there’s no stopping this superhero juggernaut.

Conversely, all positives aside, lately the films have been hit and miss. Take for example the underwhelming sequel “Thor: The Dark World” and the polarizing finale to the Iron Man trilogy. While both found financial success, there are those beginning to question the stability of Marvel’s universe. With Marvel’s success came demand, and as this thirst grew, Marvel set in motion a strategy that fulfills the demand which simultaneously secures funding for future need. And this will continue in an infinite loop enabling Marvel to produce with the mindset of quantity over quality. This will eventually result in a consistently declining level of interest that will ultimately lead to less funds for future projects, thereby effectively extinguishing Marvel’s ambitious blueprint for a big screen legacy…but this is just a theory.

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What do you think of Marvel’s course of action for the big screen? Is Marvel sacrificing quality for quantity and reward? Are they looking too far ahead or simply giving the viewers what they want? Will their courageous endeavour into the future sacrifice the integrity of their characters or help to better define them? Be sure to let me know what you think in the comment section below. Nevertheless, regardless of what you feel towards Marvel’s aggressive inflation, there’s no denying that if their future projects are anything like their latest, “Captain America: The Winter Solider,” Marvel will be going strong and steady for a long time to come. Directed by the Russo brothers, Anthony and Joe, and written by Marvel veterans Stephen McFeely Christopher Markus, “Captain America: The Winter Soldier” is without question the best solo Avenger film to date.

I’ve always felt that Captain America was cut from a different cloth than his Avenger teammates. Despite being a super soldier and carrying around an impenetrable shield, there’s nothing that really distinguishes Captain Rogers from the rest of us. He’s the most humble, vulnerable, human of all the Avengers, and that really shows in every film he’s a part of. Whether it be struggling with his misplacement in time, trying to overcome being deprived of an existence with his beloved, or fending off evil with nothing exactly superhuman to defend him, Captain America truly is the best of humankind amplified.

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PLOT:

We catch up with the Captain not long after the events that took place in New York. He’s living in Washington, D.C., running espionage missions for S.H.I.E.L.D and still struggling to fit into modern society. However, when Nick Furry is on his way to a previously arranged rendezvous, he’s ambushed by unknown assailants lead by an assassin known as the Winter Solider. This abruptly puts an end to Captain Roger’s steady routine and thrusts him back into action. Upon learning that the Winter Soldier is working for Hydra, Captain America sets out to defeat the Winter Soldier and put an end to Hydra once and for all.

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Look, no disrespect to “The Avengers,” it’s a great flick, action-packed, oozing with quotable dialogue, and frequently amusing. That being said, “Captain America: The Winter Soldier” is Marvel’s best outing to date. Where chaos controlled and ultimately lead to “The Avengers” reach exceeding its grasp.

Marvel’s latest is controlled, paced, and executed with pure brilliance. The story is engaging, the action is breathtaking, and the performances tower over any other portrayal given in the Marvel universe. And although it might not take place on the grandest scale, it certainly tackles socio-political issues that are extremely relevant in today’s world, hitting closer to home than any of its predecessors. And yet, perhaps what is most impressive and admirable about the film is the serious mentality taken by the Russo brothers whilst executing and capturing the action sequences, whether it be hand-to-hand combat between Rogers and the Winter Solider or larger scale battles and explosions. Not to mention the drama surrounding our hero Captain America and his enemy, the Winter Soldier. It’s as compelling and entertaining a battle between good and evil since Marvel’s nemesis’ D.C Comics unleashed Batman and The Joker…okay…maybe not that illustrious, but they’re working on it.

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Returning to the Marvel screen is Chris Evans who reprises his role as Captain America, Scarlett Johansson as the always deadly and sexy Natasha Romanoff, Samuel L. Jackson as head honcho Nick Furry, and Sebastian Stan who portrays his alter ego this go around, the Winter Soldier. Joining these vets are newcomers Anthony Mackie, and Robert Redford, who tackle Falcon and Alexander Pierce respectively. Additionally, there’s a terrific supporting ensemble comprised of Frank Grillo, Hayley Atwell, Cobie Smulders, and Toby Jones. If this all-star cast isn’t enough to entice you, I don’t what is!

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The insanely talented Chris Evans never ceases to amaze me, I sincerely hope the rumours floating about regarding his early retirement from acting are false. I mean, the man is a machine! Whether he’s knocking the baddies on their rear end or bursting with an unfathomable spectrum of emotions, Evans makes it look all too easy. Now, for those who have been clamouring for an independent Black Widow film, I apologize, I could not see the potential…but all that’s changed now. Scarlett Johansson quite possibly provides the best performance this flick has to offer. She’s sweet, stunning, funny, smart, and sexy. A lethal combination and something you wouldn’t expect from an Avenger afterthought. Sebastian Stan, who’s work I’m not exactly familiar with apart from the original “Captain America” film, gives the best villain performance I’ve seen since Tom Hardy’s Bane or Tom Hiddleston’s Loki. Every time this badass stud hit the screen sporting his menacing black mask and mechanical arm, I got chills.

Easily the most surprising aspect of the film is Anthony Mackie’s Falcon. I wasn’t expecting to enjoy his character and alter ego so much! I originally thought he would provide nothing more than a few comical quips and mid-air somersaults, but he does so much more. So much so that I’m actually looking forward to Falcon’s next Marvel appearance. Additionally, Robert Redford…wow. Although he’s only on the screen here and there, he controls the moments he is with an abundance of charisma and villainy.

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Shedding the cartoonish hue and predictable comedic relief that has plagued previous Marvel outings, it looks as if the illustrious comic book organization has finally gotten it right. With an incredibly strong script, potent humour, and massively memorable performances, “Captain America: The Winter Soldier” is as strong as they come.

Captain America: The Winter Soldier: 9 out of 10.

Noah (2014)

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I kept telling myself that Aronofsky was making a huge mistake with his latest film “Noah.” That it felt as if this talented director was wasting a lot of time and money in making this early-season blockbuster. And all throughout its construction and publicity, whether it was the first images released, trailers, etc…I was adamant that the film wasn’t exactly drawing me in or provoking enough intrigue in me to buy a ticket. But more importantly, it wasn’t proving that I was wrong. All this, and I still found myself having seen it in its opening weekend. Yes, I purchased a ticket and sat in a theatre to view this biblical epic, isn’t that funny? So I guess either the public relation team did its job or I just subconsciously believed that Aronofsky would pull it off. Sadly however, it seems that my original skepticism was well placed and I was right all along…

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The biblical tale of Noah is one that has always fascinated me. As a child, the thought of living on a gigantic vessel carrying every animal in existence was something that stirred my imagination and broadened my humanity. And as I grew, it was as if the tale grew with me. I began to become more aware and paid closer attention to the moral conundrums and decisive humbleness bursting forth from this fable and its main character Noah. Of course, as I grew, the tale’s authenticity slowly succumbed to my increasing intelligence and eventually it’s genuineness dissipated all together. I mean, a tale like that you take with a grain of salt, as I do with every religious tale, and every religion for that matter.

It’s just, I’m not exactly devout to any religion. And I’m sure that won’t sit well with some readers, but I don’t encourage people to part ways with their beliefs simply because they’re different from mine, I just don’t share your point of view about the universe. Look, when creationism is laid out in front of you, much like it is in Aronofsky’s “Noah,” the hidden beauty of its philosophical magnitude really is something to marvel. That being said, its absurdity when placed opposite our universe and the rules that govern it: forces, evolution, dark matter and energy, elements, and so on, are just too much to overcome, but I digress…

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Aronofsky’s “Noah” feels like two-hours and twenty-minutes of pretentiousness. I’ve seen documentaries about serial murderers, rapists, and pedophiles that don’t paint humanity as dark a shade as “Noah” does. So much so that I don’t understand why some Catholics are so upset and intent on dismissing and destroying this film. Aronofsky provides god’s wrath, nearsightedness, and the mysterious ways in which he works in spades. Granted, the entire film isn’t always shrouded in filth and inhumanity. Towards the end, we get some magnificent scenes featuring the beautiful sky spawned by the creator, lined with a massive rainbow shinning with resplendent colours and flying doves. Stunning right? Yeah, this scene takes place right after Noah’s about to murder his two newborn granddaughters before his sons have a chance to commit the act of incest, seeing as there are no human women left after the flood for them to reproduce.

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Look, I’m not trying to take out Aronofsky’s knees. He’s an outstanding filmmaker that I respect and adore…he just could’ve picked a better project. The film’s technical aspects and visuals are radiant and masterful. There’s a scene in which Noah and his wife Naameh have an intense conversation against the bluish-red hue of the approaching Dawn where Aronofsky uses only their silhouettes to indicate interaction…pure brilliance. Conversely though, I felt that the battle scenes and cartoonish-villainy of Tubal-Cain could have been left on the cutting-room floor. They don’t add anything to the film’s depth and atmosphere. Additionally, the film really suffers from pacing issues and struggles with content portions and importance. That being said, at least the magnificent Clint Mansell, composer of the “Moon” and “Filth” soundtracks comes through with another remarkable score.

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The cast, featuring Russell Crowe, Jennifer Connelly, Emma Watson, Ray Winstone, Anthony Hopkins, and Logan Lerman, was perhaps the only thing keeping me going while I waited for what was certainly going to be a misstep for the revered and immensely talented Aronofsky. Surprisingly however, this ensemble somehow managed to crumble under the film’s weak script, can you believe that?

Connelly and Watson stole the show for me, as much as they could anyway with what they were given. Crowe, who is an absolute tank in this film physically, gives it his all, but the character he is portraying has just too many flaws to overcome. As I mentioned earlier, Winstone really does create a strong villain, too bad it’s in the wrong film. Hopkins continues to appear briefly in movies, as he is just a shade of his former self, but hell, we all need a steady paycheque. Did I miss anyone? Oh yeah, Lerman is given a much broader role than his kin in the film, but can’t do much with it. Hey, at least he got to be mentored and obtained tons of advice from this cast of vets for a few months.

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Unfortunately, “Noah” is your typical blockbuster in the most general sense. Yes, it makes you think slightly more than most big-budget films and provides some stunning visuals to go along with the never ending feeling of guilt you now bear once you leave the theatre. It’s a mistake, plain and simple, for Aronofsky, cast and crew, but I’m certain they’ll recover.

Noah: 6 out of 10.

Snowpiercer (2014)

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Much like the train we inhabit for Bong Joon-Ho’s English language directorial debut, the direction in which “Snowpiercer” travels is determined, but at its core, the journey is one that has no control. Nevertheless, this doesn’t mean that the trip isn’t one hell of a ride. Brilliantly choreographed and unrelenting action highlights this resplendent visual feast that has the brains to match, for the most part. With brutal violence and an array of contrasting, stimulating colours, one can’t help but push the chaos and in-your-face obviousness of “Snowpiercer” to the back burner and just enjoy the trek.

Bong Joon-Ho has been and continues to be a filmmaker whom I admire and look to for inspiration. The director of numerous triumphs such as true-crime thriller “Memories of Murder,” modern monster masterpiece “The Host,” and psychological drama “Mother.” Bong Joon-Ho finally makes his much anticipated debut in English language cinema with “Snowpiercer,” much like his South Korean counterpart Chan Wook-Park did in 2013 with “Stoker.” This latest offering from Bong Joon-Ho features an all-star cast comprised of newcomers and veterans to Ho’s brand of film. Chris Evans, Kang-Ho Song, Tilda Swinton, Jamie Bell, Octavia Spencer, Ed Harris, and John Hurt lead the way.

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In the not too distant future, humankind unleashes what is believed to be a chemical remedy to global warming into the atmosphere. When this experiment backfires and sends our planet into an unliveable state, the few who remain seek refuge on the ‘Snowpiercer.’ A train powered by a perpetual motion engine that circles the globe once every year. Designed by the prophetic Wilford, this train is the last livable place on Earth, running on the same, worldwide track for eternity.

On board the train, what remains of our population has descended in to madness and chaos. The rich, privileged first class passengers live in luxury and comfort at the front of the train, while the rest find home at the tail where food and space is sparse. In order to obtain better living conditions and equality, the tail section revolts in an attempt to take over the engine and overthrow the current status in which the train functions.

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Taking into account that “Snowpiercer” was an adaptation, the original format being a graphic novel. A lot of the film’s blatant depiction of its themes and cartoonish violence and characters is understandable. That being said, at its worst, “Snowpiercer” is a bewildering, over-stuffed allegory that really suffers from pacing problems. Which is kind of intriguing seeing as originally, Bong Joon-Ho was not given control over the final cut of the film. This changed rather quickly though with the outcry of infuriated fans, much like myself and Bong Joon-Ho once again took full control of his film. However, whether or not this is the truth or simply a gambit I find to be in question, seeing as the film itself feels as if there was a lot more character and story development left on the cutting room floor.

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On the flip side, for all of its faults, “Snowpiercer” is a visually entertaining and mentally challenging flick. And apart from a rather lacklustre climax, there isn’t a single moment in its just over two-hour run-time in which boredom will overtake you. While extremely violent, “Snowpiercer” is not excessively gory. It tries and at times succeeds in portraying compassion and brotherhood over war and never sells the evilness of humanity as our undoing.

In his transition, Bong Joon-Ho hasn’t lost any part of his infallible repertoire. If anything, “Snowpiercer” is his most ambitious, technically masterful film to date. As we progress through each car, we are treated to a completely different spectrum of colour ranging from achromatic to vibrant and picturesque. The battle sequences are captured with the utmost intensity and emotion and the characters never take a backseat to this visual spectacle. While undoubtedly not Bong Joon-Ho’s strongest outing, “Snowpiercer” will forever remain an achievement on his impressive resume.

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While I was, without question, rather anxiously excited awaiting Bong Joon-Ho’s next project, I didn’t become totally smitten until I heard that Kang-Ho Song would be co-starring. Having lead a few of my personal favourites: “Thirst,” “The Good, The Bad, The Weird,” “Memories of Murder,” and “The Host,” you can see why I was so ripe with anticipation. In “Snowpiercer,” Kang-Ho Song is as charismatic, intimidating, and darkly hilarious as ever. While the script didn’t really allow for his character to outstretch his wings, so to speak, there’s no denying that Song did everything he could to bring this mad, drug-addicted genius to life.

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Leading alongside Kang-Ho Song is Captain America himself, Chris Evans. Having previously been featured in such personal favourites as “The Iceman” and “Sunshine,” I was sure that alongside Song, Evans wouldn’t disappoint. Evans continues his ascent to stardom with another heartfelt, invested turn, this time as the leader of the tail section revolution with a dreary, ruthless past. One thing that has become very apparent as of late, and that “Snowpiercer” exemplifies, is that Evans has the ability to deal out heroic, blockbuster performances as well as dramatic stunners.

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In supporting roles, Swinton is nothing short of impeccable. Decisively devilish and so easy to hate, Swinton does a phenomenal job as an antagonist who’s death the viewer can easily enjoy. Jamie Bell continues to earn my respect and trust. After surprising performances in “Filth” and the recent “Nymphomaniac,” Bell’s performance in “Snowpiercer” is another I can sink my teeth into. Octavia Spencer, John Hurt, and Ed Harris are also worth noting here. While easily lost in the background, their brief moments on screen are strong enough to dazzle and provoke.

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While not the game-changer I was anticipating. “Snowpiercer” is still an impressive feat that all involved can be proud of. It’s as entertaining as any big-budgeted Hollywood action flick and much more rewarding. It’ll turn its fair share of casual filmgoers away with its bleak, disturbing, and violent content, but for those who can stand “Snowpiercer” at its most repugnant, this is one train ride they won’t soon forget.

Snowpiercer: 8 out of 10.

13 Assassins (2010)

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An homage to the period-flicks of old. Takashi Miike’s “13 Assassins” is an epic addition into the samurai canon and sets a dizzying new height on the measuring stick. Unrestrained, impassioned, and utterly violent. “13 Assassins” is sure to quench the viewers appetite no matter how bloodthirsty. Revamping and reviving what was a faltering and fading sub-genre. Miike puts his modern twist on, while never forgetting, the immortal rules and makes “13 Assassins” an instant classic. Spending just as much time training and characterizing his samurais before sending them off on a path soon to be littered with severed heads and clever tactics. Takashi Miike once again proves why he is such a revealed filmmaker and adds another notch to his already legendary cult-status. “13 Assassins” is so relentlessly entertaining that you’ll never want it to end.

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In the 18040’s, samurai power in Japan is coming to a close. Lord Naritsugu (Inagaki), younger brother of the current Shogun, kills and rapes at will. When a senior government official realizes that these heinous crimes are taking place and will continue to grow in severity when the Lord ascends to a higher position of political power, he hires a battle-hardened samurai named Shinzaemon (Yakusho) to secretly assassinate Lord Naritsugu. After gathering together his assassins, Shinzaemon and crew set out to ambush the Lord and his subjects. Upon being attacked by a weak force payed off by Hanbei (Ichimura), a loyal subject and protector of Lord Naritsugu, the 13 assassins must prepare for a battle that could mean their demise.

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There’s something not seen by the human eye, seemingly invisible, but has an impact so immense, its undeniable, like dark matter…and it changes the ordinary into the extraordinary. Takashi Miike’s “13 Assassins” has this irrefutable quality in spades. We can argue that it’s the performances, Miike’s unparalleled ingenuity, or the story itself till we explode. Now, there is no question that all of these characteristics are bursting from “13 Assassins.” Nonetheless, this thing, is not a physical trait, it’s an aura, something infused that causes “13 Assassins” to transcend the screen and become priceless, timeless, a universally acknowledged masterpiece. Whatever it is, whether it’s some kind of magic, sorcery, or sheer dumb luck. “13 Assassins” will never be topped. I’m not insane, some films have this trait and it is a hallowed, humbling experience.

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Miike’s “13Assassins” is a poetic showcase of his dynamic lyricism and unrelenting savagery. The efficiency and smoothness in the way “13 Assassins” pace proceeds is unrivalled. Miike takes his time, building up the sadistic, unsympathetic evil brick by brick while simultaneously constructing an unstoppable, immovable force for good in his unforgiving samurais. His monstrous, larger-than-life filmmaking style pays huge dividends throughout “13 Assassins,” especially during the seemingly never-ending final battle sequence that is breathtaking and heart-racing. His ability to capture the slightest detail with the utmost importance while remaining true to the large-scale “13 Assassins” is based upon garners endless kudos. It is exceedingly difficult to find fault in Miike’s form or genius, which in my opinion, has never been better.

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You’d think that because there are thirteen characters playing relatively similar roles, in addition to a ruthless villain, his protector, and a massive army. It would prove senseless to try and keep track of each individual. Even if you wanted to, the task would appear confusing and daunting to say the least. However, in actuality, it is the exact opposite. The cast Miike and company have chosen add a distinguishable face and personality to each samurai and soldier. Miike simply laid out the characteristics for each of the thirteen and let the charisma and talent of the actors take control. Regardless, albeit sadly, of how impressive and unique each performance is, there are only three leads to speak of: Koji Yakusho, Goro Inagaki, and Masachika Ichimura. I’m not downplaying the supporting cast, they are equally as impressive, just in a more limited sense.

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Goro Inagaki successfully tackles the challenging endeavour of creating a villain who surpasses all calamity, maliciousness, and wickedness, to become an antagonist who is truly repulsive, infuriating, and inhumane. Essentially, an adversary without morals, heart, or emotion. Someone who’d one would never want to come across. Koji Yakusho has the privilege of being at the centre of “13 Assassins” and doesn’t waste the opportunity. Carrying the weight of his samurais, Yakusho shows no signs of discomfort. Exuding the steady-hand, persistence, and leadership needed to accomplish even the most revolting of chores. As for Masachika Ichimura’s character, he is rather hard to categorize. Although he is a ruthless killer, there is no denying that he is torn between loyalty and what is right, and Ichimura illuminates this struggle perfectly.

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Part ways with the annoyance of reading subtitles, if you have a problem with it, set priorities. After you’ve finished watching “13 Assassins,” you’re just going to want to watch it again anyway. So anything you may have missed visually when you were reading the extreme and emotionally diverse dialogue will be easily picked up the second time you watch it, or the third, or the fourth, etc…get it? Takashi Miike’s “13 Assassins” is that rare picture who’s merit will never diminish, no matter how many times you view it. For a genre with numerous masterpieces such as “Seven Samurai” and “Yojimbo,” it would appear nearly impossible to add another. If anything, Miike’s entry tops all other pieces in the canon, which should speak volumes to the effectiveness and entertaining value of “13 Assassins.”

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Wildly entertaining, decidedly vicious, and utterly clever. Takashi Miike’s “13 Assassins” is an instant classic and an undeniable masterpiece.

“13 Assassins:” 9.5 out of 10.

Pacific Rim (2013)

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Although it may ask the viewer to acquiesce a fair amount of inconsistencies and genre cliches. “Pacific Rim” ultimately rewards its audience with jaw-dropping visuals, bone-shattering action, and evoking genuine childlike wonder. It is somewhat of a let down that we are treated to only a small taste of what makes Guillermo Del Toro the revered visionary he is today. Nonetheless, without the aforementioned creator working behind the scenes. “Pacific Rim” would have undoubtedly fallen victim to the bombastic, over-driven destruction that has plagued and doomed countless others in the genre. While I didn’t expect the catchy slogan “Go big or go extinct” to be the film’s structural criteria. Luckily for Del Toro and crew, you can’t get much bigger than 250 foot robot assassins piloted by humans duking it out with genetically-engineered alien war-machines in an intergalactic battle. Powered by Del Toro’s youthful inspiration and wide-eyed ambition, “Pacific Rim” is literally a summer smash.

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In the near future, extraterrestrials dubbed “Kaiju” enter through a portal in a crevasse deep beneath the Pacific Ocean and begin destroying Earth’s major cities. To combat these monsters, humans create massive weapons known as “Jaegers” which are humanoid fighting machines that stand roughly 250 feet tall. These “Jaegers” are controlled by two pilots simultaneously through a neural link that allows each co-pilot access to inner thoughts, memories, and reactions. Soon, the human race begin to take the upper-hand, but are quickly knocked back down by bigger, more complex “Kaiju” and must find a way to close the portal between worlds.

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Similar to J.J Abrams “Super 8,” Guillermo Del Toro’s “Pacific Rim” was conceived upon childhood nostalgia and a yearning to rebirth the creature feature. Having rekindled a long-dormant fascination with classical foreign monster films. Del Toro and crew set out to instill that feeling of childish giddiness into a generation who’ve been rotted with endless pedestrian and vapid blockbusters. And as far as big-budget action-thrillers go, you’ll find none better than “Pacific Rim.” Establishing new heroes with timeless qualities that get the job done or die trying, a slew of immense, godly fighting robots equipped with inventive, resourceful weapons, and a plethora of monstrous, grotesque extraterrestrials. It might be a tad predictable, even stereotypical. Yet, “Pacific Rim” is a breath of fresh, rejuvenating air into a faltering genre that was failing to inspire and bewilder.

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It’s easy to see that in any other filmmakers hands, at least a majority of them, “Pacific Rim” would have faced a rather swift extinction so to speak. That being said, it would have been nice to see Del Toro infuse a bit more of what makes his previous releases so compelling. While there are tiny bits of his repertoire sprinkled throughout “Pacific Rim’s” rather modest (roughly) two-hour runtime (only when stacked up against the films scale). One can’t help but feel that it lacked his ambience and atmosphere, the unwavering human element. Undoubtedly, we are subjected to the brilliant diversity and growth of Del Toro as a filmmaker and it is astounding to say the least. I just can’t help but conclude that “Pacific Rim” would have been infinitely better if Del Toro took an extra half-hour, added his usual artistic detail and firmly grounded this flick. However, it’s still one hell of a ride.

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Now, inevitably, more than a few will draw comparisons between “Pacific Rim” and the “Transformers” franchise, amongst other big-budget action blunders. But don’t mistake my clamouring for typical Del Toro as a sign of skeletal, visual, and sympathetic weakness. It’s actually quite the opposite. What sets “Pacific Rim” apart from these brain-dead blockbusters is its strength in the aforementioned categories. I’m simply stating that Del Toro could have done it better, it’s still phenomenal in every sense of the word. The visuals are stunning, Oscar worthy and the story’s progressive form, formidable characters, and connectivity is sturdy enough to stand on its own. “Pacific Rim” is essentially pleasing to all cinematic senses. If you find yourself unable to enjoy it, odds are your inner-child suffocated under your pretentiousness a while ago.

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As for the film itself, you’ll find no shortage of witty humour, deceptively charismatic and humanized characters, and of course gargantuan battle weapons built by two rival races deconstructing one another using any means necessary. Still, what makes “Pacific Rim” so utterly admirable and atypical is its ability to separate from what is slowly becoming a modern convention. Amongst the abundance of comic book films that depict superheroes struggling with their own mortality and moral obligation. “Pacific Rim” reinstates the solidified, courageous, head-held-high heroes who live and feed off of the battle, albeit somewhat cockily. Not to mention, Del Toro and crew make excellent use of the underdog premise and play it out flawlessly. However, most importantly, “Pacific Rim” portrays belief in humanity, something cinema has gotten away from.

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Now, not just anyone can control these immense Jaegers or understand the Kaiju and that’s why “Pacific Rim” has such a diverse, talented, and somewhat obscure cast. Starring Idris Elba, Charlie Day, Ron Perlman, Charlie Hunnam, and Rinko Kikuchi, this crew of tenacious, at times ruthless individuals is not to be trifled with.

Out of everyone cast in this film, Charlie Day struck me as an odd, risky choice. Having only seen the actor in various comedies, a high-profile role in a serious action-flick seemed like the last place he’d be effective. Well, I was wrong. He does a fantastic job providing some much-needed comic relief and even surprised me with his capabilities a few times. Idris Elba is as intimidating as ever and continues to be one of the most underrated actors currently in cinema. Adding his usual style, suave, and dramatic flare to a rather limiting role. Ron Perlman, although sparsely used, still manages to steal every scene he’s in and he’s as hypnotic as ever. Carlie Hunnam definitely stole the show, for me anyway, and that’s due in large part to his chemistry with Rinko Kikuchi. The two really know how to give and take, while remaining independent enough to stand-out on their own.

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One of the most decedent pieces of eye-candy I’ve ever witnessed, “Pacific Rim” is exactly what you thought it’d be…loads of fun.

Pacific Rim: 8 out of 10.

Inception (2010)

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Outlandishly complex, visually mesmerizing, and action-packed. “Inception” is an intelligent blockbuster that bursts forth from the screen with all the spectacle and wonder that makes cinema so riveting. With infinite staying-power fortified by unlimited ingenuity, an empathetic human element, and dynamism. “Inception” is easily one of the best science fiction films to ever be released, if not the best. Written and directed by the distinguished Christopher Nolan. “Inception” is a brilliant addition to his already stellar collection of highly memorable films and adds another layer of superlativeness to his stern and bright reputation. Completed by an all-star cast and an absolutely epic score from the incredibly talented Hans Zimmer. “Inception” is an unparalleled cinematic experience and regardless of its intricate story or the grandness of its heart-stopping scale, should stand the test of time (no pun intended).

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Dominic Cobb (DiCaprio) is a skilled thief who is somewhat of a master when it comes to the artistic science of extraction. Simply put, Dom can be inserted into anyones dreams and steal their most valuable secrets and information. After a failed job, Dom and his partner Arthur (Levitt) are hired by Saito (Ken Watanabe), the original target, to convince a rival company’s owner to disband his inheritance. This tactic is officially known as inception. Upon recruiting Eames (Hardy), Ariadne (Page), and a few others, the group begins plotting against their target, Robert Fischer (Murphy), unaware that Dominic is hiding a dark and possibly dangerous secret about his late wife Mal (Cotillard).

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Once again Nolan is able to top his previous efforts with a completely unique and bewildering idea presented with his usual flare and style. Evidently, more than a few like to poke fun at “Inception” claiming its premise as idiotic, amongst other aspects they feel to be miscalculated. Nonetheless, Nolan’s ability to transcend and harness the abstract remains unrivalled and is a much needed jump-start for the currently unbalanced film industry. While the path he has carved for cinema might not be for everyone. Cinephiles and critics universally agree that Nolan is a mind like no other. Arguably the most successful, forward-thinking, genius working in film as of the moment. Nolan always pushes the envelope and upon assisting in the much needed reboot of the Superman franchise, it appears the sky’s the limit for this one of a kind filmmaker, but I digress, back to “Inception.”

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Very rarely does a film come along that proves to be a game-changer, and in every sense, “Inception” is one of these films. Whether it is the folding over of an entire city, mind-churning paradoxes, or astoundingly choreographed action sequences, “Inception” is deliciously appealing. Granted, a majority of these magical, majestic, delectable scenes take place in a fantastical realm. However it doesn’t degrade the sheer intellect, talent, and innovation infused into every single one of these miraculous scenes. And while the production value and intricacy of these aspects is enough for them to stand on their own. What truly puts “Inception” at another level is the brains that accompany the brawn. Equally matched intellectually and visually, “Inception” is its own excellent contrast. The mind and eyes receive quite the workout, yet, never has a strenuous effort felt so euphoric.

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Talk about easy on the eyes. “Inception” has the outwardly striking, abundantly accomplished, and utterly skilled cast to assist in the completing of this masterpiece. Starring the likes of Leonardo DiCaprio, Tom Hardy, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Ellen Page, Cillian Murphy, Marion Cottilard, and Michael Cane, amongst other proficient personnel . “Inception” is undoubtedly the full package with an ensemble that knows no weakness.

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Many will deny it having seen a few of these stars in previous films, but “Inception” officially launched Tom Hardy, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, and Cillian Murphy into the mainstream. Each give a humorous and heartfelt performance that instantly made them crowd favourites. Cottilard and Page do an outstanding job grounding this flick, adding a much needed emotional element to this larger-than-life picture. What can one say about Leonardo DiCaprio, he always makes it look so effortless, and I wouldn’t have it any other way. Finally, to quote the great Mr. Nolan, “it’s always good to have a little Michael Caine in your film.”

Literally appealing to every sense, “Inception” is not to be missed by anyone in existence, cinephile or not…and how about that ending?

Inception: 9 out of 10.

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