Sicario

Emily Blunt

Benicio Del Toro

reviewed by Tom-Tom

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The name Denis Villeneuve may not mean as much to filmgoers as his various oeuvres Incendies, Prisoners, or Enemy. I have seen the latter three and can attest to the strengths of the director’s style which includes a weighted intensity and patient yet significant panning of the camera. The intensity isn’t moody as in a Lynch film, although it bears the same dreadful feeling of imminent threat closing in on the protagonist(s). He doesn’t set store with memorable dialogue but rather ordinary, albeit never repetitive or trite speech that provides almost a documentary-like feel as the movie moves towards its inexorable conclusion. After the late Autumn frigid forests of Prisoners, and the dingy brick buildings of Enemy, we now get the Southwestern United States in Arizona and New Mexico. Utilizing mostly darkness as a tool in the aforementioned films, here he uses blinding sunlight over the flat desert wasteland, a bit of a change in style, visually, for the filmmaker.  The effect is more shocking as very early on in Sicario, we are blindsided by threat lying in broad daylight.

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The Martian

Matt Damon

Jessica Chastain

reviewed by Tom-Tom

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I had had it with Ridley Scott. Despite the beautiful production value of his films, something about the direction of his recent films disappointed me. A feeling of greatness thrown away for a cheap twist or beating a dead horse for an obscene length of time. I approached The Martian with a wary countenance. I am happy to say, it is a great success almost making me forgive him for wasted chance that was Prometheus and the boring mess that was Kingdom of Heaven. How should I describe it? Is it a mix of Gravity and Dallas Buyer’s Club in the respect that the protagonist is not on the Earth, in immediate danger, but is affable about his chances for survival. It is also a bit like 127 Hours in that Matt Damon, in his intelligent quest for survival is every bit as charming as Matthew McConaughey and James Franco were in their respective films of overcoming seemingly impossible odds with tenacity, intelligence, and sheer will power.

It is also like Apollo 13 with astronauts on Earth devising virtual scenarios and calculations which are so intellectually satisfying to see on film. Mars is so beautifully recreated that it is a joy to just sit back and watch the fiery red landscapes. The plot isn’t all that different from Brian De Palma’s Mission to Mars from the 1990’s, except for where Don Cheadle’s brilliant plan of survival was there a mere side note where, it is the main dish.

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Pawn Sacrifice

Toby Maguire

Liev Schreiber

 reviewed by Tom-Tom

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Edward Zwick has made quite a few well researched, action packed, intelligent, and morally sound pictures from The Last Samurai to Blood Diamond. Here he levels the heft of his skills into the world of chess and the uncanny players therein. The American child prodigy Bobby Fischer, warts and all is performed in his various younger ages by a variety of talented child actors until being portrayed by Toby Maguire complete with tough New York accent. Fischer has to be the least likable role Maguire has taken on since the corrupt and abusive American soldier he played in The Good German. Chess is a game I’ve played for years without getting any better. I’m too impulsive to plan more than two or three moves ahead and I tend to concentrate too hard on my own strategy without accounting for that of my opponent’s which makes my own inevitable checkmate always a surprise. Bobby Fischer grows up never losing even once until he plays Carmine, the 25th best chess player in New York and loses. The experience shocks him. He replays every move in his head and sees what has gone wrong. He demands another game. And so continues the young prodigy’s rise in prominence. He’s not subtle about his skills. He is a braggart and a loudmouth but has the ability to support his quips. Unfortunately he occasionally suffers from paranoia, hypersensitivity to sound, and a general aversion to people in general. When he is winning, he is all confidence and energy. When his increasingly insane conditions for playing aren’t met, he whines and holes himself up in an apartment or hotel room listening to the taped ravings of the 1970’s version of the Westboro Baptist Church which raves about the “dangers” of Jews, Communists, etc and espouses equally drastic measures to “right” the world again. He sends rambling conspiracy theory ridden letters to his sister warning her about “Jew-owned New York.” In tears, when speaking with Fischer’s manager, Fischer’s sister wails, “He keeps talking about dangerous Jewish people. We’re Jewish. He’s Jewish!” Kudos to the filmmakers for keeping this very damaging side of Fischer in the film.

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Spectre

Daniel Craig

Christoph Waltz

reviewed by Tom-Tom

starstarhalf star

The stage had been set. We had three films to qualify Daniel Craig as Bond. The tone had changed from wild use of superfluous gadgetry and cocky one liners after dispatching various minions to a visceral, real world spy who was flawed, and scarred by loves lost (Casino Royale)and physically by gunshots (Skyfall). Finally we got Q and Moneypenny after an entire film dedicated to qualifying their considerable skills in addition to Bond’s. Now we get Spectre, which was supposed to do the same for every villain we’ve seen since Casino Royale. A sort of anti-Avengers coming together of evil geniuses. And…it falls flat.

It shouldn’t have, though. There’s an extravagant opening sequence taking place in Mexico City on the Day of the Dead with folks dressed up in lavish ghoulish yet fancy attire for the occasion. It reminded me somewhat of good ol’ Baron Samedi from Live and Let Die and not a little of Tim Burton’s The Corpse Bride. A shootout, explosion and chase to a thrilling in-helicopter battle really starts the film out right. The opening titles are less impressive with the high pitched voice of Sam Smith (either you like him or you don’t) singing over a stern, creepy octopus creeping around various scenes of the film we’re about to see. Its tentacles find their way around the delicate zones of naked women redolent of lower tier Japanese manga of the 1980’s.

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Skyfall

Daniel Craig

Javier Bardem

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007 had been at it for nearly 50 years when this film came about. It’s classic and innovative at the same time. It’s quite different from the previous Daniel Craig James Bond films thus far which seemed intent on shaving away everything down to the absolute bare essentials shedding the excesses of gadgetry and high spy living. While we won’t be seeing invisible cars or exploding pens anytime soon, it was nice to see the franchise being taken seriously. I, for one, missed the presence of Q (for Quartermaster we now learn) in the first two Craig films and it’s nice to see him (played with restraint and subtlety by the great Ben Whishaw) back in action here. Another vital part of the Bond franchise is reborn here but is such a refreshing surprise at the end that I’ll leave you to enjoy it/him/her.

The film opens with a chase through Istanbul foregoing the initial “Bond in the Crosshairs” intro customary to classic 007 flicks. It’s a daring chase on foot, car, motorscooter, and even atop a moving train. Bond is pursuing Patrice (Ola Rapace) an enemy agent in possession of the MI6 version of NOC list from the first Mission Impossible Film ie a list of embedded agents and their real names and faces. Bond is aided in his pursuit by Eve (the sassy and beautiful Naomie Harris) whose driving skills are top notch although her abilities as sniper could use a bit of work.  The film’s opening theme begins with the sultry sounds of Adele’s Skyfall which is the best Bond theme in years at least since the 90’s anyway. The opening sequence, too is beautifully dark and gothic.

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The Bodyguard

Kevin Costner

Whitney Houston

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I think the main reason behind my not watching The Bodyguard until it recently aired on Japanese TV was, perhaps, the song. Theme songs for movies have a way of defining the film experience especially when it is saturating the airways like Celine Dion’s My Heart Will Go On”and, more recently,Disney’s “Let It Go.” It was the same for The Bodyguard. You couldn’t flip the radio station 3 times without coming upon it. Listeners would sing it (or attempt to, anyhow, as precious few can even dare to imitate Houston’s talent for more than 20 seconds without letting their unskilled cats out of the bag). So when I sat down to enjoy what I expected to be Whitney Houston’s Purple Rain, I was delightfully surprised to find it to be a well written, carefully sculpted thriller with strong performances by its two leads.

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