SICARIO 2: SOLDADO (aka SICARIO: DAY OF THE SOLDADO) (15)
D: Stefano Sollima
Columbia/Lionsgate/Black Label Media (Basil Iwanyk, Edward L. McDonnell, Molly Smith, Thad Luckinbill & Trent Luckinbill)
W: Taylor Sheridan
DP: Dariusz Wolski
Ed: Matthew Newman
Mus: Hildur Gudnadóttir
Benicio Del Toro (Alejandro Gillick), Josh Brolin (Matt Graver), Isabela Moner (Isabela Reyes), Jeffrey Donovan (Steve Forsing), Manuel Garcia-Rulfo (Gallo), Catherine Keener (Cynthia Foards), Matthew Modine (Secretary of Defence James Riley)
For me, Sicario was amongst the best films of 2015, and although a sequel wasn't necessary, plans for a third part to a trilogy are very much in the works.
The set up is still the same, focusing on Mexican drug cartels operating close to the US border, but this sequel also includes the addition of Islamic terrorism, with the plot focusing on the possibility that daesh suicide bombers are smuggling into the United States via Mexico. Government agent Matt Graver (Brolin) and hitman Alejandro Gillick (Del Toro) are tasked to go into the hostile territory to manipulate a war between rival cartels, the theory being that one large cartel would be easier to control than several smaller ones.
This thriller may take a right-leaning stance, mixing together a collection of Donald Trump's worst nightmares, but politics aside, it had plenty of action, suspense and tension to keep you on the edge of your seat. The plot does miss Emily Blunt's character as the neutral bystander amongst all the chaos, and though the director and his crew try to emulate the visuals of the original film, it isn't quite as polished in the overall look and the pacing at times can be rather slow, as multiple story threads become intertwined.
Aside from a needlessly ridiculous moment in the final act, this isn't a bad sequel at all, although it could easily have been made as a standalone film with no connection at all to the original movie. For me, it rubber-stamps Taylor Sheridan as one of the best screenwriters working in Hollywood in current times.
D: Martin Scorsese
Paramount/Sharpsword/Verdi/IM Global (Barbara DeFina, Randall Emmett, Vittorio Cecchi Gori, Emma Tillinger Koskoff, Gaston Pavlovian, Martin Scorsese & Irwin Winkler)
W: Jay Cocks & Martin Scorsese [based on the novel by Shusako Endo]
DP: Rodrigo Prieto
Ed: Thelma Schoonmaker
Mus: Kim Allen Kluge & Kathryn Kluge
PD: Dante Ferretti
Cos: Dante Ferretti
Andrew Garfield (Sebastiao Rodrigues), Adam Driver (Francisco Garube), Liam Neeson (Ferreira), Ciaran Hinds (Alessandro Valignano), Issey Ogata (Inoue), Shinya Tsukomoto (Mokichi), Tadanobu Asano (The Interpreter)
Based on a Japanese novel which was originally turned into a 1971 film in its native country, Martin Scorsese made this a personal pet project, spending over two decades bringing it to screen, with many cast changes and obstacles preventing it from being released sooner.
The story bears some comparisons with the 1986 drama The Mission and the 1991 film Black Robe. Andrew Garfield and Adam Driver star as two Jesuit priests, who travel from Portugal to Japan in the 17th century to spread Christianity and locate their mentor, who has apostatised and gone missing, but they are met with hostility by the indigenous people, who have turned their backs to the religion.
Despite some excellent acting and breathtaking cinematography, the plot simply isn't as engaging as it could be, and the running time doesn't quite justify itself.
Still, no film by Martin Scorsese can be considered a turkey. It's just that Silence is an acquired taste.
D: Garth Jennings
Universal/Illumination (Chris Meledandri & Janet Healy)
W: Garth Jennings
Mus: Joby Talbot
voices of: Matthew McConaughey (Buster Moon), Reese Witherspoon (Rosita), Seth MacFarlane (Mike), Scarlett Johansson (Ash), John C. Reilly (Eddie), Tori Kelly (Meena), Taron Egerton (Johnny)
Anthropomorphic animals sing pop songs on an X-Factor like talent show. That's about the whole plot.
Another way to describe this film would be: smarmy producer tries to make a quick and easy buck with minimum effort.
If you like tedious pop music, are under the age of 8 or a single mother, Sing may have enough about it to entertain. Everyone else would do better to give this a skip.
SING STREET (12)
D: John Carney
Lionsgate/TWC/Irish Film Board (Anthony Bergman, John Carney, Kevin Scott Frakes, Christian Grass, Martina Niland, Raj Brinder Singh & Paul Trijbits)
W: John Carney
DP: Yaron Orbach
Ed: Andrew Marcus & Julian Ulrichs
Ferdia Walsh-Peelo (Cosmo Lawlor), Lucy Boynton (Raphina), Ben Carolyn (Darren), Mark McKenna (Eamon), Percy Chamburuka (Ngig), Jack Reynor (Brendan Lawlor), Aidan Gillen (Robert Lawlor), Maria Doyle Kennedy (Penny Lawlor)
This junior version of The Commitments is writer-director John Carney's follow up to his breakthrough Once, and like the 2006 film, it utilises a similar method of using music and lyrics to underpin the plot.
The story is a rather simple coming-of-age tale, set in 1980's Dublin, where a school outcast and his ragtag group of friends form a band, make video promos on a shoestring budget and ultimately play a gig at their conservatively stringent school, with a little romance thrown in as the band's lead singer develops a crush on an older girl who lives around the neighbourhood.
The film is full of nostalgia for the 1980's, with a feel-good vibe running through it and a soundtrack of some cracking songs, especially "Drive It Like You Stole It" which has become the film's unofficial anthem.
A deserved nominee for Best Musical or Comedy Film at the 2017 Golden Globes.
SKY CAPTAIN & THE WORLD OF TOMORROW (PG)
D: Kerry Conran
Paramount/Brooklyn Films II/Riff Raff/Blue Flower/Filmauro (Jon Avnet, Marsha Oglesby, Sadie Frost & Jude Law)
W: Kerry Conran
DP: Eric Adkins
Ed: Sabrina Plisco
Mus: Edward Shearmur
Jude Law (Joseph Sullivan), Gwyneth Paltrow (Polly Perkins), Angelina Jolie (Cmmdr. Francesca Cook), Giovanni Ribisi (Dex)
To call Sky Captain & The World Of Tomorrow an admirable failure would be both harsh and true, for the revolutionary technical achievements are let down by a rather mundane, by-the-numbers plot.
Set in an alternative, technology advanced 1939, New York City is attacked by huge robots and America's best chance for a saviour is Joseph Sullivan, the titular Sky Captain, whose private Air Force, the Flying Legion are put into action.
The plot feels very much recycled from superhero movies of the 1990's (notably The Rocketeer), though the visual style of the film can by marvelled at, since the entire production was filmed in a green screen environment, without physical sets (a technique perfected by Sin City (qv) a year later), although the glazed colour grading here can be a little headache-inducing after a while.
It's unfortunate that the film was a box office flop, it isn't a terrible watch, it's just a good example of a film which failed to find its audience.
D: Rawson Marshall Thurber
Universal/Legendary/Seven Bucks (Beau Flynn, Dwayne Johnson, Hiram Garcia & Rawson Marshall Thurber)
W: Rawson Marshall Thurber
DP: Robert Elswit
Ed: Michael Sale & Julian Clarke
Mus: Steve Jablonsky
Dwayne Johnson (Will Sawyer), Neve Campbell (Sarah Sawyer), Chin Han (Zhao Long Ji), Roland Møller (Kores Botha), Pablo Schreiber (Ben)
20 years after Die Hard appeared on our cinema screens and 34 years after The Towering Inferno was a huge hit comes this merge of both plots, starring Dwayne Johnson as a security expert and former FBI agent who must rescue his family from a high tech Hong Kong skyscraper which is subject to a terrorist attack and engulfed in fire.
This film knows which other movies it's ripping off, but does so with its tongue firmly in cheek and although Dwayne Johnson plays the same character he plays in everything else, he's such a likeable personality, it's virtually impossible to get offended by his lack-of-acting skills.
Farfetched, of course, but some of the set pieces will have you on the edge of your seat and the suspension of disbelief is just on the right side, to make you truly believe that a one-legged amputee can really jump into a building with a single bound.
It certainly won't be turning heads when the awards season comes about, but for a popcorn movie, this is fine entertainment.
SLENDER MAN (15)
D: Sylvain White
Sony/Screen Gems/Mythology/Madhouse (Bradley J. Fischer, James Vanderbilt, William Sharak, Robyn Meisinger & Sarah Snow)
W: David Burke [based on the character created by Victor Surge]
DP: Luca Del Puppo
Ed: Jake York
Mus: Ramin Djawadi & Brandon Campbell
Julia Goldani Telles (Hallie Knudsen), Joey King (Wren), Jaz Sinclair (Chloe), Annalise Basso (Katie), Taylor Richardson (Lizzie Knudsen)
This poor excuse for a horror movie takes its inspiration from a character created for an internet meme which became more prevalently known due to school campus chit-chat. With that in mind, it's understandable that this film is aimed solely at a teenage audience, but that doesn't change the fact that it's a terrible movie. Slender Man = slender plot.
During a sleepover, four teenage girls summon the Slender Man, a supernatural being who kidnaps children and is only visible to those who believe in his existence, but as strange things occur the girls investigate further and further allowing them to believe in the mythical menace even more.
The film has many problems, mostly being that the characters are boring, the villain isn't threatening, the mood isn't foreboding and the whole thing generally lacks tension. Also, it isn't scary.
One way it does succeed is by theorising that Slender Man depends on people investigating his existence on the internet... I had to google what the fuck I just watched immediately after leaving the cinema.
D: Oliver Stone
Open Road/Endgame/Wild Bunch/Krautpack/Onda/Vendian (Moritz Borman, Eric Kopelhoff, Philip Schulz-Deyle & Fernando Sulichin)
W: Oliver Stone & Kieran Fitzgerald [based on the books 'The Snowden Files' by Luke Harding & 'Time Of The Octopus' by Anatoly Kucherena]
DP: Anthony Dod Mantle
Ed: Alex Marquez & Lee Percy
Mus: Craig Armstrong
Joseph Gordon-Levitt (Edward Snowden), Shailene Woodley (Lindsey Mills), Melissa Leo (Laura Poltras), Zachary Quinto (Glenn Greenwald), Tom Wilkinson (Ewan McAskill), Rhys Ifans (Corbin O'Brien), Nicolas Cage (Hank Forrester)
No stranger to controversial material, director Oliver Stone brings to the screen this biopic of Edward Snowden, who revealed CIA secrets to the press and blew the whistle on some of their methods of public surveillance.
The film begins with Snowden's blossoming career in the CIA, following an accident which cut his service in the army short, and it does become obvious that some of the scenes have been dramatised.
The performances are very good, however, especially from Joseph Gordon-Levitt as the title character and Rhys Ifans as an unscrupulous government senior, but Nicolas Cage is wasted in a minor cameo role.
Snowden's story was also tackled in the critically-praised documentary Citizen Four.
THE SNOWMAN (15)
D: Tomas Alfredson
Universal/Working Title/Perfect World/Another Park (Tim Bevan, Eric Fellner, Robyn Slovo & Peter Gustaffson)
W: Hossein Amini, Peter Straughan & Søren Sveistrup [based on the novel "Snømannen" by Jo Nesbø]
DP: Dion Beebe
Ed: Claire Simpson & Thelma Schoonmaker
Mus: Marco Beltrami
Michael Fassbender (Harry Hole), Rebecca Ferguson (Katrine Bratt), Charlotte Gainsbourg (Rakel Fauske), Val Kilmer (Gert Rafto), J.K. Simmons (Arve Støp), Chloë Sevigny (Sylvia Ottersen)
The Snowman has to be one of the biggest disappointments of 2017, especially considering the pedigree of the talent involved and that it was based on one of Norway's best-selling novels.
An earlier film based on a Jo Nesbø novel was 2012's Headhunters, which was incredibly well received and amongst my personal favourites of the year, unfortunately quality did not follow suit.
The plot did have promise and the marketing trailer delivered intrigue, but the execution of the film itself failed on many levels, particularly with the editing, which is a shock considering one of the editors was the esteemed Thelma Schoonmaker (Martin Scorsese's regular choice). The acting is fine, but there are too many cameos which go nowhere, as though they were intended to be a red herring, but this doesn't come off well at all and doesn't serve to build tension or suspense.
Michael Fassbender plays an alcoholic detective whose latest case follows a serial killer who leaves clues to where his next crime will be committed and he leaves a snowman with his victim's dismembered body parts attached, unfortunately this doesn't play anywhere near as creepy as it should.
There could have been a good murder mystery here, but it felt like studio involvement had caused reshoots and a hashed final cut.
Perhaps it would have been better had it been filmed in its native Norwegian. It wouldn't be a huge surprise if this was simply a victim of the original prose becoming lost in translation.
SOLO (aka SOLO: A STAR WARS STORY) (PG)
D: Ron Howard
Disney/Lucasfilm (Kathleen Kennedy, Allison Shearmur & Simon Emanuel)
W: Lawrence Kasdan & Jonathan Kasdan [based on characters created by George Lucas]
DP: Bradford Young
Ed: Pietro Scalia
Mus: John Powell (& John Williams)
Alden Ehrenreich (Han Solo), Woody Harrelson (Tobias Beckett), Emilia Clarke (Qi'ra), Donald Glover (Lando Calrissian), Thandie Newton (Val), Joonas Suotamo (Chewbacca), Paul Bettany (Dryden Vos), Erin Kellyman (Enfys Nest), Jon Favreau (Rio Durant), Linda Hunt (Lady Proxima), Phoebe Waller-Bridge (L3-37)
When Disney brought the rights to Lucasfilm for a tidy sum, they announced that not only will there be three more films to the original saga, but a series of spinoffs ancillary to these main stories. Solo is the second of which, following 2016's Rogue One, which was likewise set between the events of Episode III & Episode IV. We can expect a whole lot more of these too, because as long as there is money to be made, Disney will squeeze every last penny out of this movie franchise. There is a famous adage however, that you can only have so much of a good thing.
2018's Solo provides the backstory of one of the sagas most beloved characters, starring Alden Ehrenreich as the roguish pirate Han Solo, from his meagre beginnings on a slavery planet to becoming the pilot of the iconic Millennium Falcon.
From my own personal point of view, there was enough backstory provided for this character in the original Star Wars movies, and his introduction in the 1977 film was more than sufficient, as was his character arc within that story as a money-grabbing mercenary turned hero of the hour by the time the credits roll. That being said, the trailer had me hooked and I was happy to pay the price of the movie ticket, especially since Rogue One was so impressive. Unfortunately, Solo was incredibly underwhelming and totally unnecessary.
The film flirts with the legend of the character, having escaped from poverty and being thrown out of the empire's flight academy, meeting his longtime companion Chewbacca, and performing the Kessel Run in less than 12 parsecs is all on the billing, but only touched on the periphery as Han Solo joins a gang of bandits and assists with the heist of incredibly volatile rocket fuel for a crime lord named Dryden Vos. There's also a bit of romance thrown in, which serves to underpin why Han was presented so cynically in his original introduction.
There are some very entertaining moments in this Star Wars chapter, and the performances in general are good, but it has to be said that the whole is less than the sum of all its parts, and the introduction of an irritating droid with an SJW agenda gives the saga one of the worst characters imaginable since Jar Jar Binks in Episode I, and it really doesn't have enough jeopardy in the action scenes which make you think that the characters are in any real peril... we already know that the main duo are going to survive.
On balance, Ron Howard does a good job bringing balance to a very troubled production, but the film itself is nothing like how the original teaser trailer presented it, and is just a series of set pieces which don't have any real dilemma.
It's nowhere near as bad as The Phantom Menace, but it's equally as disappointing.
Disney need to realise that the fans need more than this, but they don't care. All they really want is our money.
SOPHIE'S CHOICE (15)
D: Alan J. Pakula
ITC (Alan J. Pakula & Keith Barish)
W: Alan J. Pakula [based on the novel by William Styron]
DP: Nestor Almendros
Ed: Evan Lottman
Mus: Marvin Hamlisch
PD: George Jenkins
Cos: Albert Wolsky
Meryl Streep (Sophie Zawistowska), Kevin Kline (Nathan Landau), Peter MacNicol (Stingo)
It's not a great surprise that Meryl Streep won an Oscar for her performance in this film. It's not just the greatest performance of her career, it's amongst the most powerful acting performances in cinema history.
She perfected both Polish and German accents for her portrayal as Sophie Zawistowska, a survivor of the holocaust who, following the end of World War II moved to Brooklyn where she shares a house with hot-headed American Jew Nathan Landau and Southern writer Stingo, where they become a circle of friends.
Sophie's experiences of World War II are presented via flashback, revealing that she was married to a resistance leader prior to her arrest and her and her young children were located to a concentration camp where she would become a secretary for a high-ranking German official.
Sophie's relationship with Nathan becomes strained due to his jealousy and she gets closer to Stingo, to whom she reveals her biggest secret about her past.
If you know what Sophie's Choice is really about, then it will have a small effect on the film's most memorable scene, though it remains emotionally powerful even so.
Meryl Streep is perfect, while Kevin Kline overacts wildly and Peter MacNicol isn't really given enough to do to really flex a good performance out of the role.
A truly memorable drama which will certainly scar the memory of those who have seen it.