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.
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.
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.
It might not be horror by the book, but “Kumiko: The Treasure Hunter” definitely evokes a sense of dread and unease with its stunningly ambitious, morbidly transfixing cinematography, atmospheric, nerve-shredding score and potent hilarity rooted in heart-wrenching tragedy. Loosely based upon a snippet of Takako Konishi’s life-story, a run-of-the-mill office worker who journeyed to the United States, more specifically the city of Fargo, and ended in a field near the Detroit Lakes with her much debated suicide. “Kumiko: The Treasure Hunter” is a breath of brisk, unfiltered, decidedly hefty air and was well-deserving of a nomination for the Grand Jury Prize at this past year’s Sundance Film Festival.
Previous to the definitive discovery of Konishi’s depression and documented intent on taking her own life, miscommunication between Konishi and a Bismarck police officer, with whom she had been conversing, led to the spawning of an urban legend regarding the motivation of Konishi’s trip to America. The fable states that Konishi had travelled to Minneapolis in search of the fictitious fortune of Carl Showalter, Steve Buscemi’s character in the Coen brothers masterpiece “Fargo.” The film depicts Showalter burying a case filled with money in a field somewhere in the aforementioned city, similar to the one Konishi was found. The media fanned the flames and it wasn’t long before Konishi and the mysterious circumstances leading up to her death reached unprecedented cult-status.
With depression, loneliness, and a lack of identity driving her further from the clutches of any redemptive lifeline, Konishi’s story is one of deep sadness and struggle. A battle all too many can relate to nowadays. Yet, with such morose, Ill-fated source material, one cannot commend director and co-writer David Zellner enough for the divisive and debatably up-lifting end result, by and large. Zellner has truly created one of the most immersive experiences, both visually and viscerally, in recent memory. Mixing brief moments of such euphoria and promise with long, melancholic sequences of silence set against a wintery prairie or a thick, heavily-dusted forest. Zellner whole-heartedly comprehends the complexity of his muse and executes with the utmost respect, deriving the disheartening beauty and helplessness originating from Konishi’s turbulent final days.
That said, a strong case can be made that Zellner’s greatest accomplishment with “Kumiko: The Treasure Hunter” is despite the film’s rather macabre content, it eloquently and ultimately depicts the unyielding, boundless power of cinema in a positive light. Zellner’s subtlety and maliciously sweet approach to such a bizarre and definitively dark tale that is, to some degree about the negative, specifically one of the more rare downsides of cinema, despite it not having any control in the matter, excellently and truthfully portrays cinema’s ability to overcome any mishap or catastrophe and speaks volumes to the sheer strength and hallow nature of film as an art form.
Zellner and crew aren’t the only ones operating at the top of their game with “Kumiko: The Treasure Hunter.” In the title role, Rinko Kikuchi is at her very best. Whether she’s uttering no more than a few words in broken English, starring off into a vicious whiteout, or bearing the insufferable hospitality of her newly-found, unwanted acquaintances, Kikuchi has full command of the screen and the audience’s heartstrings. I cannot praise Kikuchi’s performance enough, it’s difficult to describe what her fully-invested honesty and child-like innocence translates to on the screen. It’s magic, pure and simple. Easily the best performance she’s given in her career to date.
Oh and David Zellner, who pulls triple duty also grabbing a supporting role, is equal to the task and much, much more. The film wouldn’t be the same without his kind-hearted, empathetically-driven moral compass.
Mystical, incredibly transcendent, and unlike anything you’ve ever seen before, “Kumiko: The Treasure Hunter” is, without question, 2015s best film thus far and will be near-impossible to knock from that pedestal in the near future. Long live Bunzo!
Kumiko: The Treasure Hunter: 9 out of 10.
Look, let’s make one thing crystal clear, we’re not reinventing the wheel here. A lot of Mike Flanagan’s “Oculus” you’ve more than likely experienced before, in one way or another. And If I’m to be honest, the only reason I watched “Oculus” is because I’m an admirer of director Mike Flanagan’s ultra-low-budget horror flick “Absentia.” A film that caught a bad break when it’s marketing team really misrepresented the film with simple, stereotypical horror posters and publicity. All misdirection aside however, if you haven’t seen “Absentia,” I highly suggest you give it a whirl. It’s a brilliant, atmospheric slow-burn that delivers some seriously unsettling content and chilling scares…but I digress. So, given that “Oculus” appeared to be nothing more than a retread through its awareness campaign and that the film didn’t really provoke much interest from me, except for Flanagan being attached, I didn’t expect much from it going in…
Well, this is the part where I’m supposed to completely shift focus and tell you how exceptional “Oculus” turned out to be and that I loved it! Well, I’m sorry to disappoint you, but I can’t in good conscious lead you on like that. That being said, I can inform you that I was pleasantly surprised with what “Oculus” presented and that it is arguably the second best horror flick I’ve seen so far this year, the chillingly claustrophobic and chaotic “In Fear” still holds the distinction of being number one on my list. Now, taking into account that we’re barely four months into the new year, saying that “Oculus” is one of the year’s best doesn’t exactly hold much weight. With the likes of “Devil’s Due” and the fifth feature in the “Paranormal Activity” series barely making pre-teens have nightmares, even the competition hasn’t been top notch. I really hope this year in horror turns around…but enough about that, back to “Oculus.”
A young woman, Kaylie, tries to exonerate her brother, Tim, who was convicted of murdering their father eleven years ago by proving that the crime was committed by a supernatural force that dwells inside an old mirror.
The film plays out through a series of flashbacks that are recollected by our two protagonists eleven years into the present, who are simultaneously setting in motion a plan to prove the existence of an evil presence living inside the aforementioned mirror, with the intent of destroying it once they’ve obtained their evidence. Additionally, as If that isn’t complicated enough, the possessed mirror continuously distorts reality, making it nearly impossible to predict or conclude what is real and what is fabricated. So right away I became mesmerized by the complexity and hypnotic nature of the story and its many gambits. “Oculus” is a lot smarter than its surface insinuates. However, it does occasionally drift and as flabbergastingly impressive as the film’s editing is, the tale could’ve used sounder structuring. It simply feels a tad too out of control and it is, at some spots, difficult to decipher and follow.
Our evil, devilish antagonist declares, “I’ve met my demons, and they are many. I’ve seen the devil, and I am him.” A chilling, memorable line that won’t soon be forgotten by horror fanboys. Sadly though, it is one of the few things I do recall from “Oculus.” I’m not saying the film isn’t scary, I myself got spooked from time to time, more so during the film’s later half, and I’m not that easily frightened. The most terrifying aspect of the film has got to be these mysterious apparitions, which turn out to be the haunted mirror’s previous victims. They have reflective, glowing eyes that dot the blackness with a sinister demeanour and appear unannounced throughout the film. They really illuminate this overwhelming feeling of hopelessness that radiates from “Oculus.” Nonetheless, overall the film isn’t exactly one you’ll lose sleep over. Yet, the deliciously nauseating apple scene will definitely make your stomach turn.
The only name I recognized attached to “Oculus,” with the exception of director Mike Flanagan, was actress Karen Gillian. Portraying present Kaylie, Gillian gives an inspired performance and really does her best to hold everything together. She’s got the talent and it shows, it is just too apparent that the script let her down. Brenton Thwaites, who tackles the complex role of adult Tim, unfortunately leaves a lot to be desired. Actually, I found it rather perplexing that Garrett Ryan and Annalise Basso, who portray the younger versions of Kaylie and Tim respectively, without question stole the show. I just didn’t expect such investment, terror, and dedication to burst forth from such young actors. Rory Cochrane, whom I immediately recognized having seen his face, does capture the isolated, distant, deteriorating aura of someone possessed, but doesn’t exactly shine blindingly. As for Katie Sackhoff, much like the rest of the cast, is slightly above mediocre.
Providing consistent scares, passable performances, and a script that’s probably too smart for its own good, makes “Oculus” worth the look for die-hard horror fans. However, it’s blatantly open-ended finale which leaves tons of room for countless sequels seems a bit too eager and will undoubtedly turn its fair share of viewers away.
Oculus: 7 out of 10.
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…
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.
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.
“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.
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.
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.
Warning: This review contains content, images, and language that may upset and/or offend some readers. Reader discretion is advised.
One thing that Lars Von Trier’s “Nymphomaniac” films are adamant in conveying to and exerting from the viewer is the ability to look at everything from a different point of view, no matter how difficult or uncomfortable it may be at times. Something you wouldn’t expect from a film who’s content is so universally opinionated to one side like sex addiction, pedophillia, extreme BDSM, etc… Nevertheless, Trier’s latest outing topples this feat surprisingly easily, much to the bewildered amazement of cinephiles everywhere, including myself. Although, I’m sure there will be an avalanche of backlash regarding the film’s unrestrained visuals and themes, not to mention the stance it takes on the aforementioned matters from prudes, over-protective parents, and so on. That being said, “Nymphomaniac” as a whole is quite the eye-opener and should resonate with mature, intelligent beings.
Look, I’m not condoning sex with children, and the film isn’t either. It’s simply providing varying vantage points, giving an intelligent, thought-out counterargument to topics that don’t receive much opposition. For example. We as a species, a compassionate, smart, understanding, evolving society have come to accept homosexuality as something that one is born with, a genetic tendency that the host has no control over. So, can’t the same be said for someone who is sexually attracted to prepubescent beings? Or for those who can’t help but be sexually stimulated by violence?
Clearly having relations with someone under the age of consent is wrong, and the same could be said for asphyxiation, unreciprocated desire for intercourse, simulated or not, and partaking in violent stimulation. So what are these people to do when they have no say in the matter? Obviously and irrefutably we cannot have pedophiles and murderers running lose, so do we continue down this path? Lock them up, end their existence and suffering, wait for natural selection to take its course? This is what “Nymphomaniac” is presenting. An alternative way of seeing through the dark.
“Perhaps the only difference between me and other people is that I’ve always demanded more from the sunset. More spectacular colors when the sun hit the horizon. That’s perhaps my only sin.” – Jo.
Undoubtedly my favourite line from the film. This quote really drives home the notion that we should all look at our lives differently. We see our existence as this miracle, a gift that gives even at its most darkest. But, why should we not expect more out of life and living? As Jo says, “more spectacular colours.” Shouldn’t everything be infinitely fulfilling? I’m not talking about excess, I’m talking about every moment in one’s life being boundlessly splendid. We only get a finite amount of minutes living in a body with a character and personality unlike any other, so why not comprise them of something that satisfies you fully, whatever that may be. Part ways with the notion of work, government, and materialism, do whatever makes you ooze with joy…no matter how unique or unsavoury.
With volume 1, Trier was very much focused on the minuscule, personal aspects of fulfillment and living. The idea that sharing one’s life with another gives us a disillusioned purpose…something more than simply being a brief second in our species reproductive cycle towards the goal…ultimate, infallible evolution. In volume 2, Trier broadens the scale and takes our insignificance to the universal level and really tries to hammer home the irrefutable truth: sex is the driving force of our race and loneliness is inevitable. And sadly, Trier’s view of existence and humanity, is the truth. This has been present throughout all his films and his latest rings strongest. It’s a harsh reality and I know a lot of you won’t want to hear it…believe it, but, it’s something that can’t be refuted or undone. It is what it is, we are what we are, there’s nothing to do but live a thoroughly and utterly enjoyable life while you can.
In volume 1, Stacy Martin was the driving force while Charlotte Gainsbourg took the backseat, so to speak. The roles reverse in volume 2 and Gainsbourg puts to rest any criticism naysayers would have slung in her direction had she faltered under the immense demands and pressure of Trier’s latest. Whether she’s fully clothed having an intellectual conversation with a newly found friend or taking a vicious beating half-naked just to achieve an epic, heavenly, godly orgasm, Gainsbourg holds the screen and audiences attention as if she had a gun held to the head of the world. Another outstanding performance on her end further proves that her lack of use in other films is incomprehensible.
Perhaps the most intriguing aspect of “Nymphomaniac” is Stellan Skarsgard’s character Seligman. Without question, an intelligent, compassionate loner who can’t help but blend into the background. Yet, as time progresses, we can’t help but start to slowly shift focus from Gainsbourg’s characters story to his life, experiences and environment. I don’t want to give too much away, but do pay close attention to Skarsgard’s brilliance here. His character arguably becomes our antihero just as much as Gainsbourg’s character does. I don’t think I’ve seen a protagonist so intriguing. Our admiration, respect, and love for this character changes so quickly, if you blink, you might miss it.
The film also stars Jamie Bell, who having recently won even more praise from me for his role in “Snowpiercer” continues to shine blindingly with another unforgettable turn in “Nymphomaniac.” Willem Dafoe and Mia Goth round out the supporting cast, with those who were present in volume such as Shia LaBeouf and Stacy Martin making brief appearances as well.
If I could leave you with one last tidbit of advice, watch the film as a whole, not in two separate volumes. I know it’s tough to sit through a four-hour film, but I promise it’s worth the effort. Trier’s visuals are as unflinching, striking and reprehensible as ever. The film is filled with philosophical theories and moral quandaries, not to mention the stellar performances from the entire ensemble. “Nymphomaniac” is another triumph for Trier and company, one that is sure to leave you pondering its construction and meaning well after the final credits role.
Nymphomaniac: Volume II: 9 out of 10.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.