It often happens that I see films at a greater rate than I review them. There are a few reasons for this, not least my wariness of over-saturation. Sometimes though, I like to pause, look back at those I haven’t reviewed in full and, in order to save time, write bite-size reviews instead.
Some of the following are definitely worth giving more time and attention to, Sicario in particular, but I’d prefer just to offer a few of my thoughts and move on. It likely won’t be the last time I discuss Villeneuve’s new thriller in any case. So without wasting more letters, let’s get started.
Solace – This was one of those ‘guilty pleasure’ movies in that while I know it isn’t actually very good, I enjoyed it in a really coke-guzzling, popcorn-munching, easy-going and casual kind of way. Of course the premise is entirely stupid, and the film plays out as silly as it sounds: Sir Anthony Hopkins plays a retired, reclusive psychic who’s recruited to help the FBI catch another psychic, Colin Farrell, whose appearance mid-way through the film is supposed to be a ‘big reveal’ – which it would have been if it wasn’t plastered all through the trailer.
For the record, I liked Farrell’s performance, by far the most entertaining element of the film, while it is hard to work out quite what Hopkins, at his age, saw in this project that he thought would make it worth his time.
The script isn’t great, the acting ropey (especially from Abbie Cornish who is downright irritating), the characters unoriginal and the villain treated clumsily. You can tell the whole thing is really going for the comparison that it was marketed with (apparently intended as a loose spiritual sequel to 1995’s Seven) as it attempts to raise some interesting moral questions, but ultimately fails to do so in a compelling fashion. And yet, for all the criticisms I throw at it… I enjoyed it for what it was. I feel almost dirty for admitting that. 6 / 10
Marshland – A Spanish thriller that won an impressive ten Goya Awards (basically the Spanish version of the Oscars) earlier this year, including Best Film, Best Director, Best Original Screenplay and Best Actor.
Set in 1980, the film’s plot follows two ‘ideologically opposed’ homicide detectives from Madrid who are sent to a small town on the Guadalquivir Marshes to investigate the disappearance and suspected murder of two teenage girls. Those marshes form an important part of the film’s cinematography and there are some beautiful overhead camera shots as a result.
The two leads have good chemistry and the film’s script is well paced, assisted by a couple of twists interwoven into the narrative, leading to an enjoyable, albeit occasionally uncomfortable experience. This is certainly one of the more interesting films of the year. 9 / 10
The Visit – M. Night Shyamalan’s newest attempt to rediscover his success around the turn of the Millennium (i.e. The Sixth Sense, Unbreakable) is… an interesting one. Described as a ‘comedy horror’, the latter part of its genre comes across much better than the former. The cringe-worthy attempts at comedy in this film were at best irritating and at worst downright infuriating.
Two irritating lead cast members, who play the two most annoying teenagers of the entire year, don’t help this. Nor does their ditzy mother. The film also fails to deal with a couple of fairly obvious, gaping plot holes.
Having said that, as a horror movie it is intriguing. The underlying theme and (somewhat) twist towards the end of the film is something you haven’t seen in too many other forms of media recently, and to that end I kind of liked it. In that sense it avoids the typical clichés of a lot of modern horror movies. But the film forces you to put up with its other rubbish in order to see the positive side of it, and that’s something I can’t really tolerate. 4 / 10
Irrational Man – Yep, Woody Allen is still making movies and I found his latest, Irrational Man, to be an entertaining if unoriginal affair.
Joaquin Phoenix plays a brilliant but downtrodden philosopher who is approaching the point of being tired with living. Having just moved to a new school to teach, where he is revered by staff and students alike, he soon meets Emma Stone, a student who challenges his ideas and whom he develops a certain respect for.
The film’s main strength is this relationship between Phoenix and Stone’s characters; how they develop and evolve both individually and together over the course of the script. The backdrop to this is an interesting moral dilemma presented to Phoenix from which he finds a new lease of life. That itself is arguably less interesting than the interaction between the characters, though overall I enjoyed the film. Not groundbreaking by any means, but solid entertainment. 7 / 10
Sicario – Prisoners and Enemy, Denis Villeneuve’s last two films, are two of my absolute favourites of the past couple of years. So I came to his new thriller, Sicario, fully aware of the director’s talents and expecting to enjoy one of 2015’s top films. It didn’t disappoint.
One of my favourite things about Sicario is that all the way through it you, along with Emily Blunt who plays the film’s main character, are like a fish out of water. Around you are various characters, two of whom are played brilliantly by Josh Brolin and Benicio del Toro, whose motivations you feel constantly suspicious of, and they are unwilling to ever spoon feed you their intentions. The film hooks you in with its intensity, keeps you guessing, and keeps you on the edge of your seat until an equally tense finale.
This is a movie that thrives on moral ambiguity; it’s not one you’ll like if you prefer your movies to be cookie cutter, good and evil, straight down the middle, happy ending type deals. Sicario is smarter than that. In a way I think it might just be the most realistic film of the year.
Sicario puts you on the side of the FBI without pretending they’re always the good guys. Their aim is not necessarily to win the fight, but rather to establish a better way of controlling it, and they’re more than willing to work with the enemy of their enemy in order to achieve that. If such a premise already has you salivating, you’ll perhaps enjoy this movie more than any other released this year.
Villeneuve is honestly one of the very best directors working in the industry today. His name, in my eyes, belongs alongside a Tarantino or a Nolan – each of his films now essential viewing, and I already can’t wait for his next project. What’s that you might ask? Oh, it’s only a sequel to a little known science fiction movie called Blade Runner… 10 / 10