I was a big fan of Denis Villeneuve’s Sicario. It conveyed the monotony and horror of the war on drugs really well. Taylor Sheridan crafted a taunt storyline, you had great actors in Emily Blunt, Josh Brolin and Jeffrey Donovan as Brolin’s foil. Alejandro Gillick as a character played really well to Benicio del Toro signature mix of pathos and violence. The music was the film’s unsung character that turned out a virtuoso performance. Jóhann Jóhannsson’s soundtrack carried a lot of the weight in the film with its dark dissonant ambience. It was in many respects a modern day spaghetti western in the grand tradition of Sergio Leone and Sergio Corbucci.
Sicario 2: Soldado had a lot to live up too. Denis Villeneuve handed over directorial reins to Stefano Sollima: one of Italy’s best crime film directors. Sollima kept close to Villeneuve’s style from the previous film. Jóhann Jóhannsson was replaced on soundtrack duties by Hildur Guðnadóttir. This wasn’t due to Jóhannsson’s deadly cocaine overdose in Berlin; but a decision by the director to recruit an entirely new team.
She went from playing cello on the first film soundtrack to taking over the composition and performance of Sicario 2. Guðnadóttir kept a similar formula in the soundtrack, all be it with an even harder edge to the film. Most of the main players are back the exception of the FBI agents from the first film. Given the ending of the first film where Gillick made it clear to the Emily Blunt character that she wasn’t morally flexible enough. Sheridan Taylor takes on writing duties again.
- Matt Craver (Josh Brolin) and Steve Forsing (Jeffrey Donovan) chewing the fat, in classic spaghetti western cornball dialogue; that reminds me a lot of the
Nice day for a drive ha?
Aww, beautiful day. Blue skies, large calibre weapons. I love getting out of the office.
- The film starts with a grand vision that feels very zeitgeist with illegal immigration being front-and-centre
- The film does action exceedingly well. The assassination, kidnapping, bombings and shootouts are all incredibly well choreographed
The Plot, the plot and oh did I mention the plot? ***Spoilerish ahead***
- At the beginning of the film it paints a big canvas as the film moves from the border, Kansas city, Somalia, Djibouti and Washington DC over the first half hour. This grant vision fizzles out
- The plot lacks morality centred in one person like the first film and the director compressed with the story arc. So that leads to….
- Character inconsistencies. del Toro’s character Alejandro Gillick kills a cartel leader, his wife and his kids at the dinner table at the height of the first film. In Sicario 2; the film hinges on him having a massive change of heart and going soft. Matt Craver’s ‘the end justifies the means’ viewpoint suddenly goes soft, when he is required to have a cartel leader’s child killed
- Plot logic: they are obviously going after the head of the Reyes cartel, with a view to understanding the organisation structure and operational methods. They are keen to find key decision makers. They find one and then abruptly drop it. Maybe it was editing and what we are seeing is a film pared down into just over two hours in duration
- A weak flip-flopping president who is concerned that the deaths of corrupt Mexican federal police officers will impact his standing amongst 50 million Hispanic voters. In sharp contrast to signing off on covert action just a short time before to combat foreign terrorists using people smuggling rat lines to get into the US. Chances are he’s probably already screwed by his law-and-order stance a la Trump
- Injuries that should have caused nasty disfigurement, don’t
- The weak ending that is obviously setting up a franchise a la Marvel. That’s if Marvel allowed itself to go as dark as say Garth Ennis’ interpretation of The Punisher
I felt divorced from this film rather than numb from the grimness of the original. It’s hard to maintain power and impact, but Sicario 2 had so many doors that it could have gone through with the start of the plot, that the last half of the film felt like a cop out.
Modern day narco spaghetti western Sicario 2: Soldado is faithful to the original. It has bags of style and the kind of kinetic experience that you’d forget. A worthy successor to the original film with the exception of a story line that fizzles out and then comes back at the end to set up a Marvel-type franchise. Sicario 2 won’t have me watching it several times in the way that the original film did. I just hope that this is the movie making equivalent of a difficult second album and Sicario 3 will raise the bar again. Maybe hand the reins back to Denis Villeneuve and support Taylor with a writing team that will collaborate and challenge him to do better with the story, rather than the reductive process that Sicario 2 seems to have gone through. Stefano Sollima’s admitted as much in an interview with the Hollywood Reporter
We condensed the script’s narrative arc in order to preserve and pronounce the soul of the movie. The script was a bit wider in scope at first. Then, we organically pit the two lead characters [played by Benicio del Toro, Josh Brolin] against each other, something that wasn’t present in the first draft. Story-wise, I felt it was a really important and interesting turning point
I should have got this posted earlier but life got in the way. Things that made my day this week
I had an amazing opportunity to see the V&A exhibition The Future Starts Here as a preview
The local Unilever business in Hong Kong did their own version of a Dove advertising campaign. What’s interesting is how it differs in tonality from the usual Dove work.
‘Appreciate don’t adjudicate’ is very local as Campaign Asia put it:
The campaign is “by locals, for locals” and because Cantonese is famously colloquial and fond of wordplay, the use of Cantonese lingo is expected to resonate with the audience.
Over 100 sony aibo robot dogs get their own funeral in japan – so much here on human robot interactions and a meditation on the metaphysics of quality. This contrasts with the horror that greeted demos of Google Duplex.
I am a big fan of Eno’s Oblique Strategies so this was right up my street: The Quietus | News | WATCH: Brian Eno Installations Talk
Interview with JJ Connolly, the Author of Layer Cake and Viva La Madness – YouTube – great interview with JJ Connolly of The Layer Cake. I particularly like his description of his creative process
October has been amazing month of cinema releases for me. The last I am going to write about is Chasing The Dragon. Hong Kong cinema is considered to be in its death throws. There are small independent films of course, but its far from its hey day with production houses known around the world like Shaw Brothers, Golden Harvest or Media Asia.
Mainland productions have the money and many technical experts and directors now work across the border. Korea has come on in leaps and bounds taking up the overseas arthouse audience.
There aren’t many new stars coming through, even in Chasing the Dragon; character actors and main stars are largely industry veterans since the 1990s. However, Chasing the Dragon gives me some hope for the Hong Kong film. Its an unashamedly Hong Kong film focusing on the economic boom of the 1960s and mid-1970s. It is a technical tour-de-force. Much of the Hong Kong shown in the film from old Wan Chai to the Kowloon walled city only exist in fading photographs. So much of it was green screened in instead.
It is probably too local for a mainland audience to fully appreciate the nuances and historical references. It shows a Hong Kong on the ascendancy, rather than suffering under a century of shame. It also holds up an unflinching view of British colonialism with its rampant individual corruption.
A modern British audience would have very little idea of how serving British police officers at all levels and government officials were central cogs in the corruption. Eventually the stench got to much when chief superintendent Peter Godber was found to have over $600,000 US stashed away.
Andy Lau plays ‘Lee Rock’ a clear analogue of Lui Mo Lok (呂慕樂) a corrupt policeman known as the The Five-Hundred-Million-Dollar Inspector by Hong Kong people. In some respects one can view Chasing The Dragon as a reboot of the 1991 film Lee Rock II where Lau played the same character through the same time period. Chasing the Dragon adds verve, detail and taunt storytelling to the mix.
The film is being shown at the Odeon in Panton Street.
This month has been a vintage month for cinema in London where I managed to see The Villainess.
The Villainess is a Korean film built around actress Kim Ok-bin. It is a vengeance film and there will be comparisons to the likes of Oldboy. There are also hints of Nikita and Kill Bill (which in turn stole in style and even shot-for-shot from Asian cinema).
It is the most ‘kinetic’ film that I have seen in a long time with visceral action scenes, fast editing and amazing steadicam work. There are clear parallels between the first scene and a video game first-person shooter view. The plot has a number of twists and turns in it.
Get out, watch it (it has been running at the Prince Charles cinema).
*** No plot spoilers*** Where do you start when talking about the most hyped film of the year?
Blade Runner 2049 starts up some 20 years after the original film. It captures the visuals of the original film, moving it onwards. The plot has a series of recursive sweeps that tightly knit both films together which at times feels a little forced, a bit like the devices used to join Jeremy Renner’s Bourne Legacy to the Matt Damon canon.
The 1982 film took the neon, rain and high density living of Hong Kong in the late summer and packaged it up for a western audience. Ever since I first saw it represented a darker, but more colourful future. I felt inspired, ready to embrace the future warts and all after seeing it for the first time.
The new film is a darker greyer vision largely devoid of hope. You still see the Pan Am and Atari buildings of the first film, now joined with brands like Diageo. The police cars are now made by Peugeot. It also captures the visual language of the book, something that Scott hadn’t done in the original to the same extent. In the book, Dick (and the Dekkard character) obsess on how the depopulated world’s crumbling ephemera is rapidly becoming dust.
Visually the film dials down its influences from Hong Kong, Tokyo or Singapore and instead borrows from the crumbling industrial relics of the west and third world scrap driven scavenging from e-waste in China and Ghana to the ship breaking yards of Bangladesh. The filthy smog and snow is like a lurid tabloid exposé of northern China’s choking pollution during the winter. It paints a vision more in tune with today. Automation and technology have disrupted society, but orphans are still exploited for unskilled labour and vice is rampant.
Ryan Gosling and Harrison Ford do very capable performances. And they are supported by a great ensemble of cast members of great character actors at the top of their game. Dave Bautista, Robin Wright, Barkhad Abdi (Eye in The Sky) and David Dastmalchian (MacGyver, Antman, and The Dark Knight). The one let down is Jared Leto – who now seems to play the same character in every film since his career high point of Dallas Buyer’s Club – I suspect that this is as much a problem with casting as performance. I think he needs to be cast against type more.
For a three-hour film it still manages to hold your attention and draw you in to its universe without feeling tired. It’s also a film that forces you to think, so if you are looking for visual wallpaper for the mind a la Marvel’s Avengers series of films it won’t be for you.