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 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 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”.
“Neon Demon” is the sort of piece that might make “Mean Girls” or “Heathers” blush but it is the texture of society to push things farther. The metaphorical styling of Nicolas Winding Refn who made his splash in “Drive” shows how the incompetence of passion melds with the human psyche. Here the beauty myth, seen in its many forms, transcends the notion of beauty to one of ambition…the texture that being almost the best isn’t enough. Elle Fanning comes into her own here playing still the young ingenue but with a naivete and blind fury of ignorance that infuriates the models around her. Refn populated the film with many models and as the ending scene attests there is a sense of retribution in its sarcasm. Fanning’s character follows a path of wanton identity but one where the backwards armpits of LA both feed and nuture her in haunting ways. Keanu Reeves, who revels at times in darker textures, add a small intention of star power but in a role that paints back his indie roots in “River’s Edge” and “My Own Private Idaho”. But as good as Fanning is at points, the movie’s heart and wretched soul below to Jena Malone who again shows her ability to stretch her boundaries. There is an Oscar winner glimpsing inside her. Jodie Foster definitely saw that in her in earlier films…a mantle somewhat taken up earlier by Kristen Stewart, who like her former beau Robert Pattinson, is not taking the big paychecks but instead pursuing more character-based work which ultimately will give them legs in the long run. The other star in addition to Winding Refn’s blood and neon-stoked aesthetic is the synth driven beauty of a score by Cliff Martinez. It truly drives the film. The commentary, although unremarkable, is Fanning’s first commentary in which she is accompanied by Winding Refn. The other feature shows an element of the thinking behind the score which again is one of the movie’s many strong points. “Neon Demon” is a dark parable of sorts and, as always, Winding Refn’s worlds, like it or not, draw one in.