Following up on a singular film like “Sicario” is a hard prospect. The essence is that bigger isn’t always better but also the texture of certain films cannot be replicated. Denis Villenueve (who elected to make “Blade Runner 2049” instead of this film) had such a specific notion of the texture with its sheer brutality and overtones along with a protagonist point of view and an extended superstructure which made it extremely unique. “Day Of The Soldado” fares better than most sequels simply because the ideas behind it are even more prevalent than when the first film was made and even since this sequel itself was released in theaters with everything that is happening along the Mexican border near San Diego. The essence is that the two lead characters of Matt and Alejandro (as played by Josh Brolin and Benicio Del Toro respectively) have to grow and be held accountable in certain ways for their actions. Of course, there is no way to parallel or even come close to the conclusion of the original “Sicario” which this reviewer initially stated in a way as a “reverse Scarface” after seeing it at the premiere in Cannes a couple years back. Here there is no true segment like that though one involving Alejandro in the desert is pretty wrenching and oddly enough sets another structure in motion that might be interesting to contemplate should the story continue. The director in Stefano Sollima, an Italian filmmaker who made the TV series “Gomarrah” on the mafia in Italy was a great choice but again is no Denis. However with original writer Tye Sheridan writing the sequel and completely understanding the machinations of his world and Darius Wolski who has shot “Fight Club” & “Se7en” for David Fincher, the behind the scenes elements are up to scale. Even Isabella Moner who helped lead the most recent “Transformers” movie shows a definite range as the kidnapped daughter of a drug lord here and holds her own. The Special Features on the disc are succinct and very intuitive of the characters and what the film is trying to achieve from the locations and “making of” to hyperfocusing with the actors on what makes the characters tick. “Day Of Soldado” is not its predecessor but it does a good job in trying to maintain the bar.
The essence of mainstream Chinese cinema reflects in certain values and textures of the mythic. In Brothers, the ideal reflects back in the war in the 1920s between the nationalist and the communist factions in China. While the ideology is not specifically addressed, the specific story is integrated between two brothers indoctrinated into the army but ultimately through circumstance they find themselves on separate sides. The filmmaking structure of the technology according to the behind the scenes bonus features began in 2010 and the film was purely made on a stage with green screen. The look of the film reflects that mostly of “Sin City” and, to a lesser point, “300” (made in 2005 and 2006 respectively). Creating whole battle sequences on water and on mountains in this way is interesting but obviously labor intensive as the film didn’t come out until 2016. The conflict involves the older brother Wang and the younger brother Chen coming to terms with the men they have become and their loyalty to those they serve. The underlying narrative structure involves Chen being assigned after a particularly brutal battle to escort some female musicians to a place called High City for a performance. His brother, now part of an assassin squad, finds them and their conflict of ideals begins. While the dialogue is very matter of fact, the texture of the relationship makes definite sense as it does rouse to an almost blindsided conclusion until the resolution is structured. The bonus features also speak to the two actors’ approach to their perspective characters but the enclosed trailer does give away too much of the plot. “Brothers” shows the continually evolving market’s ability to try new things while remaining in certain element of mythic themes resonant to the individual.
The accessibility of a remake always depends on the people making it and the necessary ramifications for such a pursuit. The ideal behind “Papillon” which was previous made as a movie in the 1970s starring Steve McQueen & Dustin Hoffman is one of showcase. Most younger generations wouldn’t have had a perception of such a story, especially one that begins in the 1930s. But like most great stories worth telling, the essence borders in the mythic. Charlie Hunnam portrays Papillon. Hunnam definitely has an eye for unusual material with literical overtones which might not necessarily give breathe to his marquee value but definitely marks him differently. He turned down “Fifty Shades Of Grey” right before he was to shoot it. While “King Arthur” didn’t succeed, “The Lost City Of Z” was an interesting choice. The challenge is obvious within “Papillon” for him but like “ A Prayer Before Dawn” from A24 earlier this year, the power of the story might not have been enough to connect with audiences. The aspect of Rami Malek, who now has reached a mainstream perception with his lead role as Freddie Mercury in “Bohemian Rhapsody”, playing Louis Dega nicely complements Hunnam’s Papillon much like Hoffman to McQueen. Malek brings a quite reserve and nervousness to Dega which again shows his dynamic range as compared to say his work on “Mr. Robot”. The locations are interestingly vague yet specific. It starts out in Paris in the 1930s, all shot on soundstage. Most of the actual prison and interiors seems to be have been shot in Serbia. There is an old world dirtiness to the proceedings while including a sense of history. The essence of Malta is definitely felt in Devil’s Island (who many may recognize from the ending of 1980’s “Popeye”) The themes of escape and abandonment versus a sense of belonging resonate throughout the film. The film does get a bit esoteric during Papillon’s isolation time which is a creative choice but unbalances the progression. In terms of extras, there are a nice selection of deleted scenes though only two specifically give a specific enhancement to the film in terms of detail: one being the escaping band of criminals negotiating with a village of lepers and the other being Louis finding a sense of piece in gardening and caring for animals. Both scenes show a sense of gentleness both in Papi and Louis that maybe gets lost at times in the savagery of the prison. “Papillon” didn’t necessarily need to be made but those involve definitely show their passion in these continuing stories that need to be told.
The integration of global cinema is finding the right balance that appeals to all corners while still remaining edgy. For most places, this involves moving towards the center and not necessarily to the darker elements. Director Peter Berg seems in his movies with Mark Wahlberg (who also produces) to find that interesting mix between personal story, political underpinings and essential practical action. Their previous collaboration: “Patriot’s Day” was more specifically encompassed with a certain idea of an American style response within the Boston Massacre in a town that is very close to Wahlberg’s heart. But like Berg’s “The Kingdom”, what their latest “Mile 22” does is push the idea of the edge of the zone while still embracing new ideas. While Wahlberg is the marquee star here, it is the breakneck pace of the film which allows not just him but the other actors, especially Iko Uwais, the star of the breakout Indonesian action film “The Raid” to shine. The fact that this film can operate on that level as well as the film Wahlberg is trying to make is admirable. Some of the facts get muddled since the script is somewhat scitzophrenic and trying to move too fast but the action is just as frenetic and almost overtakes what Berg is trying to do. At its core, “Mile 22” is a stopwatch action film; point A to point B involving the need to deliver an asset. However using different places and streets to its advantage is key. As shown in the bonus features (and in its initial release) part of the big street scenes were shot in Bogota, Colombia. Having been to the city for a wedding, there is so much possibility to its back and main streets (although it is set to mirror at Southeastern Asian fictional city). Bogota is used to a point but also as a angle to bring more film production despite the country having a somewhat checkered tourism past from decade to decade. The stunts are interesting but most of the material on the Blu Ray was originally created as publicity material for the original release so no new material is here though what is included should be fodder for any regular cinema collector. Another stand out is Lauren Cowan, who brings to mind a 2018 version of Bridget Moynahan (who starred with Al Pacino and Colin Farrell in “The Recruit” in the early 2000s). This reviewer has not experienced her screen presence as Maggie in “The Walking Dead” but her steel here hopefully bodes for more focal elements on the big screen as well. “Mile 22” is an expert exercise by two filmmakers wanting to push the boundaries but also understanding the need for entertainment, however hard nosed, within the audience.
The aspect of “The Snowman” is wrapped in the different precipice of a Scandinavian thriller. If it were presented simply as that and not as a major Hollywood thriller, it might have fared better. The texture of the story despite being a graphic novel is simply a little too off kilter in terms of storytelling structure than it needs to be. Thomas Alfredson’s films are effective but, in all frankness, slightly more akin to an art house crowd. Mark Romanek roams in a similar hemisphere, not to say they cannot take on larger fare but their storytelling is more akin to eccentric character fare. Michael Fassbender plays Harry Hole, an intrepid detective with more than a little bit to hide. He seems effervescent and yet removed. A new detective aware of his previous cases played by Rebecca Ferguson shadows him. Whereas Ferguson enjoyed some chemistry with Tom Cruise in the “Mission Impossible” outing, here the interaction seems very droll and that might have to do with the direction. Ultimately for American audiences, no one was aware of the character to begin with so the fanfare behind it was what perplexed US audiences. The movie isn’t awful. It’s sensibility is a bit off. Tinker Taylor, which Alfredson had done previous, had a similar progression in pace. An aside is also the inclusion of Val Kilmer, post op, which is both interesting and disheartening in its presentation also because the use of heavy ADR with a different voice seems to be what has happened. The extras seems to address the idea of Harry Hole being such a hallowed character in Scandinavia along with profiling the author Jo Nesbo. The aspects of the different locations in Norway do highlight a beautiful aspect of the films (there are some beautiful flying over bridges sequences) but there is not a sense of true geography. There is also an anatomy of a scene which takes place on a frozen lake, both capture on site and in studio. “The Snowman” is not bad yet not great and wholly unexceptional.
The continuation of Kristen Stewart approaching material that is both poignant and self reflexive continues with “Personal Shopper” directed by Olivier Assayas who also directed her in her Cesar award winning performance in “Clouds Of Sils Maria”. This tome has a slightly more supernatural tone but always off screen (for the most part) and below the surface but works with Stewart’s almost retreating delivery. She almost doesn’t want to let the audience in but then in certain moments of vulnerability and poignancy lets herself go. The irony of “Personal Shopper” which Assayas wrote for Stewart is the fact that many designers want to dress her and here she plays a girl who shops for a famous celebrity and longs to wear the clothes but never takes the chance. The film does use the texting element of a unknown stalker who might be her twin, a would be murderer or possible romantic interest quite liberally. While at times a slightly lazy plot device, it intersects with the idea of being invisible in plain sight which thereby works for the progression. The final resolve, like all good films (European or otherwise), is that it leaves the viewer with a question to the nature of the lead character and her state of being (or unbeing) as it were. The interview included with Assayas speaks to the reflexive nature of what the film proposes while the Cannes press conference shows Stewart as well as fellow cast members. Again in responding to the press, Stewart both tries to stay forthcoming while protecting a little bit of the mystery for her. For that reason, the interceding paradox of the art works to admirable effect in “Personal Shopper”.
The impact of “Starship Troopers” over the years is as much a force of sheer will as in the ideas it presents. Like a novel like “Dune”, the essence of political upheaval is always cyclical. Having done interviews for the original film as well as the first of the CG offshoots, it is interesting to see the essence of creativity but also of choice in the ongoing adventures which have been helped by the increasing possibility of CG animation even on lower budgets. “Starship Trooper: Traitor Of Mars” is one of the best follow ups so far simply because of the scope and the texture of the bug attacks using an essence of Mars as a back drop. While there are throwbacks and even harks to aspects of “Total Recall” in terms of the final solution, the progression of the story and of its underdog pinnings works well in congruence with the original story. The other aspect which was undeniably drawing for me personally as a review was Dina Meyer’s character Diz from the original who didn’t survive beyond that outing. That was one of the most grounded and connective aspects in all around effective film was her and Johnny Rico’s romance. Her voice is brought back into the fold here and used to good available though storywise it is reaching quite a bit. An explanation which is slightly inferred is not brought to fruition so even leaving it open ended does nothing for the story except bridge it. This is one of the story’s strengths but obviously its shortcomings. Technically a lot of what is done (although in many ways an original Machinima type piece) is entertaining and also timely (especially with the way the Sky Marshall and sense of loss is handled. The extras which focus more on a series of interviews with Casper Van Dien (who plays Johnny Rico) as well as Ed Nuemeier (who wrote the movie screenplay as well as this outing give perspective as does interviews with the creative team in Japan. Not eye opening but definitely solidly done.