If you need anyone to write you a gritty, heart thumping thriller Tyler Sheridan's your guy. The critically acclaimed writer is behind such works as Hell or High Water, Wind River and of course Sicario. Hot on the heels of Wind River's surprise success Sheridan returns with Sicario 2: Soldado - as the drug war worsens and terrorists are trafficked across the Mexican border into America, Matt Graver joins forces with Alejandro once again to strike at the heart of the drug cartels.
Soldado offers yet another immersive thriller but one that is almost entirely insignificant in comparison to Sicario. Soldado is audibly engaging rather than visually alluring, aside from the odd long shot deep in the Mexican desert there really is nothing striking about the cinematography at all. In any other shoot em' up thriller this would be no issue, but this is Sicario we're talking about, the film that established Denis Villeneuve as a special kind of director offering stories beyond guns, dust and dirt. Whilst the first stuck with a yellow colour pallet and scorching sandy landscape shots, Soldado apperas grey, metallic and unfortunately rather bland.
Two of the best aspects of Sicario don't even appear in this sequel. Emily Blunt's absence is unexplained as it is disappointing - clearly the British actress prioritised A Quiet Place which worked critically and commercially in her favour - sadly her absence proves how fundamental she was to the first Sicario. On top of this Villeneuve's arty direction is sorely missed, along with the journey through the corrupt Mexican law enforcements, drug cartels and the white knuckle border crossings he took us through. In hindsight Soldado offers the same grippingly action but doesn't even come close to what the original achieved - think of the terrifying and breathtaking car chase on the bridge. If there was any reason to follow on this crime/thriller story it would be Blunt or Villneuve - due to the departure of both of them Soldado appears a little pointless.
The harsh, atmospheric soundtrack drowns out the entire picture and all for the better. Immersing you into a world of drugs, violence and corruption the electronic score jangles the nerves against the tense story, contrasting the differences either side of the border and the danger that takes place within each location. Moreover, the sound design is highly impressive, echoing gunshots, the crunch of stones underneath each footstep, the shattering of windows and the hypnotic spin of helicopter blades. Every sound serves a purpose and is ultimately - disappointingly - more impressive than the story the film is trying to tell. If there's anything to be taken away from Soldado it's that the sound team have created something they ought to be incredibly proud of.
Above all, Soldado is all over the place. Plot devices flow in and out of the other with nothing actually slotting cohesively into place - fundamentally you have two worlds colliding with various other loose bits left hanging - not only does it result in a messy film but it lessens the impact as well. If it weren't for Josh Brolin and Benicio Del Toro, a few well put together scenes and a brilliant, use of sound Sicario 2 would have ended up a fairly poor film. Disclaimer: don't make a new Sicario film by taking away two of the best parts of the original.
Sicario 2: Soldado:
We've seen Ocean's 11, Ocean's 12 not to mention Ocean's 13 and now we have Ocean's 8. Unlike the title implies this isn't a prequel to the George Clooney and Brad Pitt glory days with fewer members but a sequel involving Sandra Bullock and Cate Blanchett. Hunger Games director Gary Ross sets to re-establish or in this case re-re-establish (if you consider the original 1960 Frank Sinatra/Dean Martin Ocean's 11) the franchise with nine brilliant ladies to lead it. Debbie Ocean, sister of Danny Ocean, recruits an all female crew to pull of one of the trickiest heists imaginable when she decides to rob the MET Gala in New York City.
Boasting one of the best casts this year, Ocean's 8 is slick and stylish but a little simple and unfocused. Ross has brought the Oceans series into comfortable ground assembling a team that is arguably just as good as Clooney's 11, however the story seems to drag along rather than skillfully unfold towards the unexpected climax. It suffers from noticeable pacing issues for a large chunk of the film - there's no time wasted bringing the team together, however in the phases leading up to the heist Ocean's 8 loses sight of its story. As Debbie Ocean states it took her "Five years, eight months and twelve days" to hatch her plan nonetheless the story feels haphazardly put together and aside a few clever twists appears a little basic - even for an Oceans flick.
It's rather disappointing that the plot is unable to match what is otherwise a very entertaining, heavily 60's inspired heist movie. Though it may not offer a story as smart as Clooney's 11 it certainly offers one just as stylish. The split screen returns in all its glory as scenes slot, click, and slide into one another and the camera zooms from one point to the next within the same shot playing just like an old-fashioned hollywood movie. Integrally, despite some very strong comparisons to Soderbergh's original reboot, Ocean's 8 fights to sets itself apart but sadly the set up is all too familiar, and does feel a bit here we go again.
One thing that Ocean's 8 certainly isn't short of though is charm. The roster of nine fabulous ladies delivers one of the best casts of 2018 as well as an arguably superior Oceans's team. Wether it's due to the reduction in members or not - decreasing from the oversized 13 last time round - Ocean's 8 provides a rare treat: a team that is well balanced with each member holding their own. Forget the heist, the only impossible aspect of Ocean's 8 is trying to find your favourite member. Bullock is fantastic as the new Danny Ocean leading the pack - but if I had to pick a few standouts Awkwafina comes to mind as the wise cracking pickpocket and Helena Bonham Carter is simply wonderful as the failing fashion designer Rose Weil. However Anne Hathaway completely steals the show as the magnificent prima donna Daphne Kluger - putting one hundred and ten percent into her diva performance which screams come back.
Ocean's 8 is very enjoyable however leaves me with mixed feelings, despite being excited to see these ladies return for another heist along with their equally stellar soundtrack. If Ross' direction were a little more focused and the story a little sharper then the pros would certainly outweigh the cons but for the time being it's balanced between the two. The cast is simply amazing and Rhianna's Rastafarian hacker 9-Ball proves to be yet another win for this singer turned cameo actress - but please may James Cordon not return! He sticks out like a sore thumb and adds a Gavin and Stacy style taint over an otherwise slick but simple feature.
Following Lady Bird, Ex Machina, Moonlight and The Florida Project it didn't seem that A24 films could become any more profound, but now they have given us the astonishing Hereditary. 2018 is quite the year of directorial debuts - firstly Greta Gerwig (Lady Bird) then John Krasinski (A Quiet Place) now Ari Aster has burst onto the scene with his incredible first feature. Following the death of her estranged mother, Annie begins to unravel secrets behind her mysterious past, however as she discover the horrors of her bloodline the family descends into nightmarish chaos.
Placing tragedy and mental illness under the microscope - Aster provokes thought as well as genuine fear from this gut wrenching family drama. Earning such titles as the scariest film since The Exorcist and The Shinning these comparisons are not only accurate but deserving. Essentially Aster doesn't create an awards friendly imitation but a Rosemary's Baby inspired picture that is executed with almost Scorsese-esque precision. Hereditary is the finest and most accomplished type of horror - one that grows with an impending sense of doom and dread, with shadowy figures lurking in the corner of your eyes rather than the completely distasteful gore-fests that most creatively devoid modern horror films have become.
What works most successfully about Hereditary is its ability to craft an unsettling, erie atmosphere that raises the hairs on your arms long before anything genuinely frightening happens. Aster leaves a trail of breadcrumbs for us to follow, dropping delicate hints throughout the film until it spirals into complete hell. Sharp and refined cinematography is used from the opening scene providing the audience with a dollhouse inspired view of the family home. The most unsettling of shots are those that zoom down long, dark corridors in the dead of night or shots that focus frontwards on the characters' faces for long, lingering and uncomfortable periods of time.
Depending on how the rest of the year plays out Toni Collette has practically just bagged herself the best actress nomination. In a powerhouse performance, she gives us Annie - a miniature model maker who recreates events of her life in the form of little settings and figurines. Symbolic of her trying to gain a sense of power and control over her family, whilst also curbing her grief, loss and personal issues in the process.
Frightening and distressing scenes aside at its core Hereditary is a harsh representation of the family dynamic, and ultimately this is what's truly terrifying. We are led to believe initially that the family is simply distant and dysfunctional, however it's only during the spine chilling third act you begin to see the arguing, secrecy, judgement and despair. The plot uses the mystery and horror behind the Grandmother's secret life to explore the negative side of the family tree, suggesting we "inherit" the worst traits from our bloodline as well as the good. Furthermore Hereditary uses the satanic cult as a story device to ambiguously hint that the events are not actually occurring, but a result of mental illness which the whole family has inherited from their past relatives.
Because of Hereditary you may well never look at your house nor your grandmother the same way again. Aster crafts a slow burning family centred drama that unravels into mystery, then towards the end descends rapidly into nightmarish horror. He creates a film of the same calibre as the cinema greats I've mentioned above, using brilliant characterisation, unnerving scene transitions and twisted cinematography. Aster along with the punch of Toni Collette's career defining performance delivers one of the scariest, most unsettling and significant horror movies of the modern generation.
2018 marks the twenty-fifth anniversary of Jurassic Park - a film that to this day leaves a dino shaped footprint in popular culture. Steven Spielberg changed the game as we know it when he brought dinosaurs back to the modern day through, at the time, cinema's most advanced visual effects. Moreover through rich and complex characters he explored the irresponsibility of power and how it causes what Ian Malcom (Jeff Goldblum) famously described as the "butterfly effect". Fast Forward almost twenty five years later, Claire (Bryce Dallas Howard) and Owen (Chris Pratt) are recruited on a rescue operation to save the dinosaurs from Isle Nublar after the dormant volcano awakens.
Fallen Kingdom evolves the Jurassic saga into a new era with white knuckled, T-Rex roaring gusto. Director J.A. Bayona casts his dark, Gothic Horror spell over the fantasy adventure of Jurassic Park - although stampeding dinosaurs and flying Pterodactyl's will still leave you suspended at the edge of your seat. Fallen Kingdom explores the dark magic beyond - capturing the significance of the original whilst bravely tearing everything down in the process. Though the many sequels thus far have tried and failed to develop the Jurassic Park legacy, Fallen Kingdom recognises that this is far more than just a film about dinosaurs - in Ian Malcolm's fateful words "Life cannot be contained. Life breaks free. Life finds a way."
From the terrifying opening scene we feel the heat from the scares that proliferate Fallen Kingdom, crafting tension in a completely different way than Spielberg's iconic shaking cup of water. Whether it be lava spewing at the end of an abandoned Jurassic World tunnel or the shadowy Indoraptor crawling across the creaking wooden floors of the Lockwood mansion, Bayona's striking use of lighting injects the fear factor that has been sorely missed from the series ever since the nerve shredding Visitors Centre scene so many years ago.
Fallen Kingdom constructs immense set pieces to let the explosive events unfold. A large portion of the first act builds towards the volcanic eruption. Not only is this breathtaking to behold on the big screen but it poetically waves goodbye to Jurassic Park, delivering a genuinely tear jerking finale. Bayona delicately combines two disparate locations and environments into one cohesive picture, beginning in sub tropical Pacific Isla Nublar and concluding at the Lockwood Estate in mainland California - Bayona emphasises the transition from Jurassic Park into Jurassic World. Crucially, with a tightly structured narrative Fallen Kingdom is the first of the four sequels to successfully pick up where the original ended, venturing deeper into the dark corruption of money and power, and the perils of re-creating prehistoric life.
Whilst the antagonists have a rather pantomime, moustache twirling swagger they act as deliciously evil counterparts. On the other side Claire and Owen are fantastic popcorn movie heroes but curiously aren't written more meaningful parts. Much of what made Jurassic Park the movie it is was the roster of compelling characters, given both depth and purpose, not just bodies to facilitate the story. That said there is some progress, both Howard and Pratt without question develop their characters over their arguably plastic performances in predecessor Jurassic World. As a last peeve the dialog is hit and miss; sometimes as sharp as a Velociraptor claw, others like a Brontosaurus boot. The brief return of Jeff Goldblum's velvet tongued Ian Malcom helms many of Fallen Kingdom's finest one-liners, in contrast most of the surrounding character's dialog is far too basic and on the nose.
Perhaps most interestingly of all, at this point in the franchise the dinosaurs have become as compelling as the humans. Fallen Kingdom offers some visually striking and exhilaratingly tense action scenes that demand to be seen on the largest screen available. Bayona's dark development of the template creates a magnificent sequel that bravely and boldly tears everything we've known apart, bringing forth a bold new era. Re-establishing the fear and excitement of the series with Tyrannosaurus sized oomph in an explosive and surprisingly poignant fashion, Fallen Kingdom finally, wonderfully, continues the true Jurassic Park legacy.
Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom:
Diane Keaton, Jane Fonda, Candice Bergen, Mary Steenbergen, Andy Garcia, Richard Dreyfuss, Don Johnson and not to forget Mr Incredible himself Craig T. Nelson. You could mistakenly think such an impressive line up of veteran tinsel towners had been assembled for The Godfather Part 4 rather the senior citizen friendly chic flick Book Club. Four lifelong friends have their lives turned upside down when they introduce 50 Shades of Grey to their monthly book club - what could possibly go wrong?
Book Club is cheeky and self aware enough to realise exactly what it is, a white wine laced comedy that oozes 50 shades of Grandma. Making his directorial debut, Bill Holderman has worked with Robert Redford in the past and his experience is evident as these four A list ladies seem to be having just as much fun as the audience is having watching them. It may not be the big break he had hoped for, nonetheless Book Club's playful innuendo over the lipstick stained wine glasses style signifies how well it hits the demographic it's going for.
Against the expectations sown by the trailers Book Club is rarely vulgar or smutty. It's easy to prejudge this film especially when you're way out of the target audience - however credit where credit is due, the script is rather well written. It seems most of the jokes delivered from Book Club's conveyor belt structure pack a of their own punch, and whilst themed around the same sexual quips the script is above the lazy, run of the mill level other less accomplished comedy films can be notorious for. Some of the best gags are centred around Candice Bergen's character attempting online dating, this warm innocent, idea of mature women putting themselves back out there in the dating world is what enables Book Club to have a sweet and sugary centre to balance what appears a raunchy surface.
For most though, Book Club is primarily about the star power. If there are any actors who have earned the right to shelve their oscars and have some fun it's these golden girls. Four decades after winning her first Oscar Fonda gives a masterclass in comic acting, proving that with talent you really can make the most of everything. Keaton never loses her touch, Bergen still holds that charming spark, and together their chemistry is so strong that everyone will want a membership of their club.
Cheap, cheerful and especially cheesy - Book Club makes full use of its magnificent cast in a film that is surprisingly well realised. There is the fair share of hand over mouth giggling moments - most notably where Steenbergen tries to spice things up by placing viagra in her husband's beer in a bar - but that's just about as far as it goes. It may be as safe as Prosecco and a bowl of ready slated pringles, however Book Club is a hilarious nod to the older generation.
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Hi I’m James - a huge welcome to my film blog! I started this site just after my 14th birthday and have been bringing you my own take on the hottest box office arrivals and many art house triumphs ever since.