The Little Stranger (Review)

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⭐⭐⭐ (Good)

Director: Lenny Abrahamson 
Starring: Domhnall Gleeson, Ruth Wilson, Will Poulter, Charlotte Rampling 
Certificate: 12A
Run Time: 111 mins

Those looking for a fully-fledged horror film should perhaps look elsewhere, but if you’re after an atmospheric Gothic drama with some great performances and an enticing narrative, The Little Stranger delivers. Directed by Lenny Abrahamson, who made the exemplary Room, this adaptation of Sarah Waters’ novel is a rather strange choice. Domhnall Gleeson plays Doctor Faraday, who attends Hundreds Hall, an 18th century estate that his mother used to work at. The Hall has fascinated him all of his life, from the decor to the luxuriousness of it, somewhat a forbidden fantasy from his more humble origins. Hundreds Hall is now slowly in decline and home to a scarred Royal Air Force veteran, Rodrick Ayres (Will Poulter) and his elderly mother (Charlotte Rampling) and sister, Caroline (Ruth Wilson) who live there too. As the film unravels, the house is not what it seems and mysterious happenings begin to unfold, whilst at the same time Faraday tries to befriend Caroline.

Abrahamson shows skill in creating tension and conjuring a dreary, melancholic atmosphere and there is a feeling throughout the film that something bad is going to happen. This is bolstered by Stephen Rennicks unsettling score and Ole Bratt Birkeland’s dark cinemaography. The performances really help here too, with all of the talented cast doing a good job as although there is strong character development, due to the nature of the narrative, the characters are rather cold and emotionless. Will Poulter is by far and away the standout, further cementing his talent after impressing in many of his roles recently, most notably The Revenant and Detroit. He wears the disfigurement of his character perfectly and his mannerisms are chilling.

But the film never really amounts to all that much and despite the sustained patience throughout the film, it ends rather minimalistically. That’s not to say it’s particularly unsatisfying, but I was expecting the narrative to amount to a little more than it does. After having a chance to think about the film, I’ve come to the conclusion that it’s not so much about the ending, it is more about Faraday’s journey and his ambition to break through the social classes.

Overall, The Little Stranger is a solid Gothic drama, but it is certainly not a horror film as the marketing has suggested and if you can appreciate Abrahamson’s quiet approach and rich characterisations, it’s a good watch. But this is certainly going to be a divisive film that will probably test the patience of many of its viewers.

⭐⭐⭐ (Good)

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The Predator (Review)

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⭐⭐⭐ (Good)

Director: Shane Black
Starring: Boyd Holbrook, Trevante Rhodes, Jacob Tremblay, Keegan-Michael Key, Olivia Munn, Thomas Jane, Alfie Allen, Sterling K. Brown
Certificate: 15
Run Time: 107 mins

The Predator series seems to have now come full circle with Shane Black (who played Hawkins in the original) directing this fourth installment, with the aim to kickstart another trilogy. Black is a talented filmmaker with an impressive resume under his belt ranging from the big-budget but subversive Iron Man 3 to smaller projects such as Kiss Kiss Bang Bang and The Nice Guys. He’s a skilled writer, who generally tends to develop characters really well and has a good sense of humour. This should be a good match for him, and with a property as lucrative as this series, if this is successful, it should propel him even higher.

A little like the highly underrated Predator 2, Black moves this sci-fi extravaganza into the suburbs. The film follows Boyd Holbrook’s character, Quinn McKenna, a soldier who is the only survivor after a Predator attack. When he has some of the remnants after the dead Predator that he sends back to his address, his disabled son gets his hands on it, signalling the Predators to retrieve this. McKenna then teams up with a group of PTSD-ridden soldiers to take down these extra-terrestrial powers. Whilst a new narrative for the franchise is refreshing, Predators opened up possibilities to further narratives and it is a little disappointing to see that those avenues are no longer being explored. 

The reviews for this film have generally been very unkind so it surprised me that I had as much fun with The Predator as I did. Yes, it’s a little narratively all over the place and its pacing is rather breakneck, but Black’s signature humour and characterisations remains intact and I grew to care for the characters, even though they may not have quite been as fleshed out as they could have been. The film is at its strongest in its first third, where it poses some interesting ideas and a science facility action sequence is particularly well shot.

The cast are all pretty good and Boyd Holbrook does a sound job in the lead and bolsters the cast together. Jacob Tremblay, as McKenna’s disabled son, seems to come from a totally diffeent film at first, but he slowly settles into the role. Sterling K. Brown is great as the human villain, who is very sarcastic and has many of Black’s quips. Of the soldiers McKenna teams up with, Keegan-Michael Key makes the biggest impression and most of the film’s laughs, as expected, come from him. 

The film’s biggest problem is its pacing. The film comes in at a lean 107 minutes but this is a piece of work that certainly could have benefitted from another half-an-hour. Scenes are often quite short and there are a few moments where characters seem to get to places with no explanation. There’s a lot to get through and it seems a strange decision that Black edited it down to this relatively short length.

Henry Jackman’s score revisits some of Alan Silvestri’s original themes and is generally sound. Larry Fong’s cinematography is good and there are a few interesting shots but the film is not as visually resplendent as some other films that Fong has shot, such as Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice and Kong: Skull Island

Overall, there is a lot of fun to be had with The Predator and one has to admire its shambolic construction. I’d be more than happy to watch Black direct a sequel and with perhaps lesser constraints and quotas, it could be a really good film. There’s a lot of good work here and although it’s by no means the best film in the series, it does offer some interesting ideas and a refreshing change of scenery into the suburbs. 

⭐⭐⭐ (Good)

The Nun (Review)

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⭐⭐ (Poor)

Director: Corin Hardy
Starring: Demián Bichir, Taissa Farmiga, Jonas Bloquet, Bonnie Aarons 
Certificate: 15
Run Time: 96 mins

Following Marvel’s success, many studios have gone about trying to establish their own cinematic universes, and whilst some have come to fruition, by far and away the strongest is The Conjuring series. Beginning with James Wan’s exemplary 2013 horror, there has been a sequel to the mainline Conjuring film and also spin-off’s concerned with the Annabelle doll prevalent in these films and now, The Nun. The Nun is another spin-off based on the evil Valak in The Conjuring 2. Set in Romania in 1952, a Roman Catholic priest and a nun are sent to investigate the death of a nun at the Cârța Monastery. However, as is customary with a horror film, nothing is as it seems and the supernatural entity behind it takes to haunting the protagonists.

Perhaps the simplest way of describing The Nun is by calling it a ‘beautiful disaster’. The film is an absolute trainwreck – the film is edited extremely badly, its overreliance on jump scares mean that it isn’t scary and the story is borderline incoherent. It would be very easy to just completely dismiss this film and rip it apart.

Yet in a post-mortem exercise, it is clear to see that there are some good intentions here. Director Corin Hardy is clearly a horror aficionado which shows in the film’s cineliteracy (there are allusions to some of the Hammer horror films for instance) and the film is quite atmospheric and establishes a chilling setting. There are some breathtaking shots of the exteriors of the monastery which really portray the grandeur and influence it has on its characters. This is by far, the most frightening aspect of the film and leaves a lot to audience interpretation. It’s strange then that Hardy resorts to jump scares, which are all poor and there is not a single memorable one in the film. It’s also strange that Hardy chooses to punish the characters in the worst possible way towards the beginning of the film. There is an extended sequence where a character is stuck in a grave, which is a horrifying scenario but anything that happens to this character afterwards is never as bad. Surely, this sequence would have worked better towards the end of the film? Despite these fatal mis-steps, all of Hardy’s good work in the film’s atmosphere is undone and squandered by how the film has been edited.

Good editing should be invisible in a film – one shouldn’t notice it and the better the editing, the better the pace. The Nun has two editors credited – Michael Allen and Ken Blackwell, so perhaps one edited the film after the other or they both did it together? They constantly cut between different camera angles and shots and every scene in this film is just so brief. The film feels more like a trailer extended to feature-length. If they’d have let the shots breathe a bit and linger, this would have made the film endlessly more atmospheric and the film would be much better paced.

The editors try to cut between the different characters perspectives (as the story necessitates they stupidly split up and get haunted separately) and the narrative is almost incoherent. There were a few moments where I had to guess what was actually going on story-wise even though the film’s narrative is relatively paper-thin anyway.

As for the performances, Demián Bichir and Taissa Farmiga are serviceable with the poor material they’ve been given. It’s a shame that Farmiga in particular isn’t further utilised, particularly as her sister, Vera Farmiga, plays Lorraine Warren in The Conjuring films. After doing a great job with previous entry, Annabelle: Creation, Maxime Alexandre’s cinematography is sound, but the film is often too dark and it is hard to work out exactly what is going on in some frames.

I was really excited to hear that composer Abel Korzeniowski was hired for the film, as he has done some sterling work, particularly Nocturnal Animals. Korzeniowski’s score is suitably creepy and has a couple of memorable cues, but a composer of his statue could have done a better job.

It’s a shame The Nun isn’t as successful as the marketing led me to believe. This film looked like a surefire hit, but all of the film’s best sequences are in the trailer and the abhorrent editing completely kills the film. Even in terms of how the film functions in connecting to other entries, it does so in a strangely forceful manner that isn’t satisfying. Despite being a very disappointing film, there are some promising aspects here and perhaps if the film wasn’t so choppily edited, it would be much better. The Nun overall, represents a weak entry in The Conjuring series, but I certainly preferred it to the first Annabelle by quite some distance. That isn’t a difficult feat to achieve, but it’s a shame that the film isn’t as good as it looked. Perhaps as was the case with Annabelle, a strong sequel can redeem this material and really do it the justice it deserves.

⭐⭐ (Poor)

BlacKkKlansman (Review)

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⭐⭐⭐⭐ (Excellent)

Director: Spike Lee
Starring: John David Washington, Adam Driver, Laura Harrier, Topher Grace
Certificate: 15
Run Time: 135 mins

‘Based on some fo’ real, fo’ real shit’, BlacKkKlansman follows Ron Stallworth, the first black detective in the Colorado Springs Police Department. The film tells his story and how he successfully manages to infiltrate his local Klu Klux Klan by putting on a convincing portrayal of a white supremacist over the phone and then getting his Jewish colleague to assume his identity whenever his physical presence was required. This ‘joint’ is directed by Spike Lee (as he refers to his films), whose entire body of work is thought-provoking and interrogates issues of race and gender. Although his latest crop of films have received rather lukewarm reviews, I really enjoyed his remake of Oldboy (and am still holding hope we will one day get his true 140 minute vision before it was cut down) and Chi-Raq isn’t bad either. BlacKkKlansman premiered earlier this year at the Cannes Film Festival where reviews were almost unanimously positive, many citing this as a return to form and among his best work.

BlacKkKlansman certainly maintains Spike Lee’s passions and although the film stumbles in its first half an hour or so, when we get to the heart of the story, it is a mostly gripping and infectious account of these events. When you’ve got material as fascinating as this, it’s hard not to make a gripping film. But I don’t think BlacKkKlansman ranks as one of Spike Lee’s best. It has the tendency to be rather preachy at times, ham-fistedly spelling out its message. It’s also rather unsubtle in how it’s trying to link to current events, namely the Trump presidency and America’s deeply divided culture and racism.

But if you can get past some of the obvious storytelling, there’s certainly a lot to like here. Lee interrogates many different themes, chiefly duality between the film’s events and characters and he manages to balance some laugh-out-loud humour with its main message. All of the film’s characters are well-developed, even the KKK members have fleshed story arcs and you do begin to sympathise not with their beliefs, but with their personalities a little which is to be commended.

John David Washington is excellent in the lead role of Ron Stallworth giving a nuanced yet sprightly performance. Adam Driver as his Jewish police colleague is also strong, a character who is thrown in the deep end, who has to assume Stallworth’s personality when meeting KKK members in person. The real standout of the film though is Topher Grace as David Duke, ‘Grand Wizard’ of the KKK who is note-perfect and is endlessly charismatic yet sinister.

Stylistically, BlacKkKlansman is great, with excellent costume design and settings that perfectly mirror the 70’s setting. Terence Blanchard’s score, a mainly funk and jazz infused affair, has some memorable motifs and supplements the narrative well. Chayse Irvin’s cinematography is also good, with some interesting camera angles and shots.

When the main narrative takes centre stage, BlacKkKlansman is thoroughly enjoyable film in Spike Lee’s filmography. It spins a gripping yarn out of a fascinating story and is bolstered by being technically proficient and having some great performances. But its beginning is very self-indulgent and if the film was more subtle, it would be outstanding. I think due to the praise this film has received, I was expecting a little more. It’s a low 4-star grade-wise as a 3-star is rather harsh. BlacKkKlansman is definitely worth seeking out and most audiences should have a blast with it, as well as discovering and questioning the ways in which America’s society works, but it’s far from perfect.

⭐⭐⭐⭐ (Excellent)

The Festival (Review)

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⭐⭐⭐ (Good)

Director: Iain Morris
Starring: Joe Thomas, Hammed Animashaun, Claudia O’Doherty, Jemaine Clement, Hannah Tointon, Kurt Yaeger, Noel Fielding, Nick Frost, Theo Barklam-Biggs
Certificate: 15
Run Time: 98 mins

The Festival is the first project by the creators of the Inbetweeners, which spawned three hilarious television series and two flawed but serviceable films that took their characters on tour. The narrative and settings are very much in the same vein in The Festival. The film follows two university graduates, Nick (The Inbetweeners’ Joe Thomas) and his friend, Shane (Hammed Animashaun). Nick has recently gone through a break-up with his university girlfriend, Caitlin (conveniently played by Hannah Tointon who was also a love interest for Simon in The Inbetweeners) and spends the beginning of his Summer ‘cry-wanking’ surrounded by buckets of fast food chicken. After Shane manages to lure him out of his room, they head to a music festival, which as one would expect, is filled with mud, sex, drugs, bodily fluids, and conveniently Nick’s ex. Claudia O’Doherty plays Amy, a quirky but likeable Aussie traveller who Nick and Shane first meet on the train journey to Glastonbury. Amy is happy-go-lucky, a chatterbox, a little awkward and talks away to various people before they leave her. At first, she gets on the nerves of Nick and Shane but then conveniently they all begin to bond, Shane more so.

After a fairly funny but familiar opening, once the titular festival arrives, what follows is a succession of awkward, cringeworthy gags that are at worst, familiar, but at best, rib-tickling and surprisingly heartfelt. It also just about manages to shake its televisual feel with its festival set piece. There are a couple of clumsy references to other films such as The Wicker Man in an extended set piece and the plot is rather absurd, but it all just about hangs together.

Both Joe Thomas and Hammed Animashaun are reliably funny and pass for playing characters much younger than their real ages. The rest of the young cast are all sound and the film has the usual comedy slew of celebrity cameos that are welcome relief when there isn’t much for the film to do. What We Do In The Shadows’ Jemaine Clement is particular funny as one of the boys father, who has many of the film’s best lines and gags.

Ultimately, The Festival is a likeable and well-natured comedy that manages to capture the reality of a British music festival. In the wake of The Inbetweeners, it proves to be a perfectly entertaining diversion. It may not be the most memorable film and probably will be forgotten fairly quickly, but the film ultimately succeeds in its primary target of making audiences laugh and shouldn’t be overlooked.

⭐⭐⭐ (Good)

The Meg (Review)

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⭐⭐⭐ (Good)

Director: Jon Turteltaub
Starring: Jason Statham, Li Bingbing, Rainn Wilson, Ruby Rose, Winston Chao, Cliff Curtis
Certificate: 12A
Run Time: 113 mins

Another Summer, another shark film. At least, that’s what The Meg looks like and judging by the trailers and its marketing, it is the definition of a stereotypical Summer popcorn movie. The Meg, however looks much better, than the shark films from the last few years, from the disappointing The Shallows to the terrible 47 Meters Down. The Meg wears its cheese on its sleeve with smile-inducing taglines such as ‘Opening wide’ or ‘Chomp down’. Also, The Meg ups the stakes quite literally in that it follows a thought-to-be-extinct Megalodon shark that is let loose and it is up to Jason Statham and a group of scientists to stop it inflicting carnage and torment. Director Jon Turteltaub has a very mixed quality of filmography, having a promising start with Cool Runnings but then he made the terrible National Treasure films and never really recovered.

Surprisingly, The Meg gets a lot right and has a solid, at times, atmospheric first half. Tureltaub succeeds in only showing glimpses of the monster and manages to build tension, as the scientists are on a mission investigating a suspectedly deeper section of the Marianas trench. Although nothing groundbreaking, there are even attempts to flesh out the characters and they’re all quite empathetic and likeable. 

It is rather frustrating, then, that the film lacks ambition in its second half. The 12A / PG-13 rating really affects the film and actually, violence and gore would have really elevated it, rather than having the camera frustratingly cut away when the titular monster hunts its prey. It also lacks credibility in that nothing really happens, particularly in what could have been an outstanding setpiece of the shark creeping into a packed beach, but instead it more or less just swims through without many casualties. 

At least the cast and crew seem to be having fun and Statham is realiably cheesy in the lead role. Rainn Wilson possibly fares the best out of the supporting cast and is well-cast as a billionaire who initially supports the scientists research. Technically, the film looks good, with Clint Eastwood-regular cinematogapher, Tom Stern establishing a great atmosphere and inventively shooting some of the shark attacks. 

Ultimately, you pretty much get what you expect with The Meg but at least, the first half is pretty solid. It’s a shame that the filmmakers wanted to appeal to the largest possible audience, as a higher age rating could have really elevated it and would have satisfied the genre buffs. However, taken on its own merits, The Meg is certainly one of the better shark films in recent memory which although unfortunately says a lot about the genre, is good in that it’s not a travesty unlike other recent efforts. 

⭐⭐⭐ (Good)

Ant-Man and the Wasp (Review)

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⭐⭐⭐⭐ (Excellent)

Director: Peyton Reed
Starring: Paul Rudd, Evangeline Lilly, Michael Peña, Walton Goggins, Bobby Cannavale, Judy Greer, Tip “T.I.” Harris, David Dastmalchian, Hannah John-Kamen, Abby Ryder Fortson, Randall Park, Michelle Pfeiffer, Laurence Fishburne, Michael Douglas
Certificate: 12A
Run Time: 118 mins

Ant-Man and the Wasp is Marvel’s third offering this year after Black Panther and Avengers: Infinity War and certainly is a lighter offering than the former films. The first film had a turbulent production with Edgar Wright developing the film for a few years until having creative differences and departing the project. Peyton Reed jumped on-board and delivered what was one of the best Marvel films to date. This sequel picks up after the events of Captain America: Civil War where Scott Lang is nearing the end of his house arrest. Lang teams up again with scientist Hank Pym (Michael Douglas) and Hope van Dyne (Evangeline Lilly) to try and rescue Janet van Dyne (Michelle Pfeiffer), who is stuck in the Quantum Realm, a dimension where users go sub-atomic and cannot return to the real world. Unfortunately, these plans are made difficult with the existence of the enigmatic Ghost (Hannah John-Kamen), as well as a shady black market dealer, the charismatic Sonny Burch (Walton Goggins).

Ant-Man and the Wasp is just as good as the original and like it, it is full of heart and character-driven moments. Reed further develops the innovative action sequences through the creative variations in size and spectacle in the first film, a car chase fares particularly well. This is aided again by confident performances from the cast all around and the additions of new cast members make the film feel fresh. Laurence Fishburne and Randall Park fare the best out of the new additions, Fishburne fitting perfectly into this world and Park is frequently hilarious as a bumbling, slightly useless agent.

Reed seems to feel a lot more confident this time around, particularly as his direction doesn’t bear the spectre of Wright. The humour consistently lands and there are many memorable sequences which their comedy is expertly judged. What was also particularly impressive to see was how standalone Reed’s sequel is and the film largely ignores other films in the canon. The film does finally connect to Infinty War in its final moments, in a very satisfying way that should leave fans eager to find out how the rest of these superhero’s story will continue. Christophe Beck returns to score and again, reuses his theme from the original sparingly which really helps.

Overall, Ant-Man and the Wasp successfully delivers on the success of the original and furthers the narrative of these characters. It is also a welcome tonic after the disappointing Black Panther and the frustrating Avengers: Infinity War. Ant-Man and the Wasp is definitely worth a watch this Summer.

⭐⭐⭐⭐ (Excellent)

Incredibles 2 (Review)

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⭐⭐⭐ (Good)

Director: Brad Bird
Starring: (voices of) Craig T. Nelson, Holly Hunter, Sarah Vowell, Huckleberry Milner, Samuel L. Jackson, Bob Odenkirk, Catherine Keener, Isabella Rossellini 
Certificate: PG
Run Time: 118 mins

Director Brad Bird has always said he would only make a sequel to 2004’s The Incredibles if it was a better concept than the original. That’s a lofty promise, especially considering how the first film is one of Pixar’s best and for its time, marked a change in the superhero genre as it deconstructed its generic constructs. After a 14 year wait, it is with heavy heart that Bird seems to have reverted on this promise.

Incredibles 2 begins immediately after the end of the first film with the Parr family battling The Underminer, but after they cause rather a lot of collateral damage, the family are left without any financial assistance as the superhero program is shut down. This is until a new technology company reach out to them to help put these superheros back into the public limelight again.

Unfortunately, what follows is a painfully predictable narrative and a storyline that erratically meanders all over the place that isn’t particularly all that interesting. In Incredibles 2, Bird essentially revisits all the same beats as the first, only role-reverses the characters.

Many have praised Incredibles 2 for its gender politics as Mr Incredible is required to stay at home and raise his children while his wife goes out to fight crime. This is quite poorly handled as it fails to provide a commentary on this theme and instead rams a strong message of feminism down the audience’s throat. Whilst Bird has fun with extended sequences of seeing Mr Incredible at home struggling to control his children, the whole conceit of why this happens in the first place is rather baffling and utterly threw me out of the film.

A superhero film is only as strong as its villain and the villain in Incredibles 2 is poorly executed. The sinister Screen Slaver’s motivations are one-note and outdated, a villain who hypnotises subjects via technology. The character doesn’t really add much to the plot and could be removed entirely. Jason Lee’s Syndrome in the first film was outstanding because we saw the progression of the character from an innocent individual to a villain created by the actions of the characters.

Incredibles 2 isn’t a bad film; it’s just average and after a lengthy 14 year wait, that’s not good enough. I’m genuinely surprised Bird saw reason to stick with this obvious and predictable narrative, especially considering he is often an ambitious director with fascinating ideas. At least other Pixar sequels, often for better or worse, have gone in a completely different direction and have taken risks. Incredibles 2 sadly places as one of Pixar’s weakest films and a crushing disappointment.

⭐⭐⭐ (Good)

Sicario 2: Soldado (Review)

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⭐⭐⭐⭐ (Excellent)

Director: Stefano Sollima
Starring: Benicio Del Toro, Josh Brolin, Isabela Moner, Jeffrey Donovan, Manuel Garcia-Rulfo, Catherine Keener
Certificate: 15
Run Time: 122 mins

Sicario 2: Soldado is the rather unexpected sequel / spin-off to Denis Villeneuve’s Sicario, a film that didn’t particularly show any franchise promise but was one of the most darkest, intense films of its year. Whilst Sicario followed the journey of Emily Blunt’s FBI agent Kate Macer who was sent to help on the escalating war on drugs by bringing down a cartel leader, this film puts that film’s shadowy side character Benicio Del Toro’s Alejandro in the spotlight. This seems only the best move as Del Toro putting in a barnstorming performance in the previous film. Josh Brolin also returns as the sandal-wearing, similarly shady CIA officer, Matt Graver. In this film, both Graver and Alejandro team up to bring down another cartel by falsely kidnapping his daughter and then pinning it on a rival cartel group.

Villenueve doesn’t return for the sequel as he was busy directing Blade Runner 2049 and nor does Blunt. Italian director Stefano Sollima takes the reins, who seems like a good choice after helming the intense Gomorrah. Taylor Sheridan, who continues to go from strength to strength after writing both Sicario and Hell or High Water and also directing Wind River returns to write the script. The late Jóhann Jóhannssson scored the first film which was amazing, and DOP-maestro Roger Deakins shot it but here they are replaced here by Jóhannsson’s protégé and Hildur Guðnadóttir and Ridley Scott regular Dariusz Wolski.

Sicario 2: Soldado is a masterful sequel and whilst its behind-the-camera talent may not, on paper, be quite as strong as its original, as a film I found it to be better paced and maintains its sharp focus throughout. The first film made a jarring shift in its final third, which although was satisfying, did make the film lose focus a little as the rest of the film follows Emily Blunt’s FBI agent constantly. This is an even more grimy and black picture where characters are morally and ethically bankrupt and there are multiple scenes which are very uncomfortable to watch, in particular an early scene that sets the backdrop for the rest of the film with terrorists blowing up a supermarket. Sollima’s sequel has a rousing commentary on American politics with a Trumpian-like President and the lengths and processes people go to to cross the border.

Benicio Del Toro again proves why he is one of cinema’s most underrated actors and his character shows a bit more compassion compared to the first film here but he’s still in ths mission for his own redemption. Del Toro seems to channel Clint Eastwood’s Man with No Name towards the films end and his character similarly oozes coolness. The rest of the cast are all excellent as well, Brolin as expected and Isabela Moner is excellent as the kidnapped daughter who gets exposed to the horrific drug and human trafficking underworld.

Although technically, this sequel isn’t quite as strong as its original, Wolski’s cinematography is still excellent and there are some expertly paced, frenetically charged action sequences that are exhilirating. Hildur Guðnadóttir doesn’t try to emulate Jóhannsson’s score and whilst it isn’t as strong, it’s still interesting enough and fits in well with the film and she revisits Jóhannsson’s ‘The Beast’ theme at one point in the film which is well used.

Overall, despite trepidation and the weight of the first film, Sicario 2: Soldado had a tough job to impress. For this to be equal, if not slightly better than the first is an achievemt in and of itself and for virtually the entire film, I was in awe of the film. There is a slightly over-the-top plot device at the film’s end with a certain character that I didn’t initially quite buy and the film does set itself up for another sequel rather obviously, but the film had me in its wake for me to go with it. Sicario 2: Soldado is possibly the best cinemagoing experience of the year so far and a must-see.

⭐⭐⭐⭐ (Excellent)

Hereditary (Review)

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⭐⭐⭐ (Good)

Director: Ari Aster
Starring: Toni Collette, Alex Wolff, Milly Shapiro, Ann Dowd, Gabriel Byrne
Certificate: 15
Run Time: 127 mins

Although Hereditary‘s strong critical reception has marked it as another horror film that has continued to further the genre in its recent resurgence, Ari Aster’s directorial debut has its fair share of problems. Hereditary follows the increasingly dysfunctional Graham family who are mourning the loss of their grandmother of the family, who has suddenly died. Annie (Toni Colette), her daughter and mother to Peter and Charlie specialises in creating miniatures had a difficult relationship with her mother and tries to raise her two children. Steve (Gabriel Byrne) is a psychiatrist who is clearly uncomfortable with the situation and both children are increasingly disconnected from their parents, Peter, a typical teenager who experiments with drink and drugs. Charlie, however, has an air of strangeness about her who makes uncomfortable clucking sounds and fashions unconventional totems.

Hereditary is exemplary for its first half as there is a growing sense of dread as Aster ramps up the intensity. The characters are all wonderfully developed and the film is totally investing in the events that transpire on-screen. There are also (some more obvious than others) attempts at stuffing the film with multiple meanings and interpretations, in particular the opening shot of the film which zooms in on one of Annie’s doll houses suggesting that what we are watching is perhaps artificial and all of the characters are being controlled, like puppets. There is also one of the most shocking sequences I have seen in a film in a while part-way into the film which instantly changes the course of the narrative.

Unfortunately, these promising set-ups are poorly executed in their pay-off’s as the film loses credibility about half-way through and goes down the route of a conventional supernatural horror film which I could never quite buy. The film, particularly in its climax is increasingly silly and a lot of the wonderful development that happens in the first half of the film is all for nothing.

That said, since watching Hereditary, there appears to be a lot of hidden meanings and metaphors in the film that are not apparent on first viewing, so a definite rewatch is required but I still can’t quite forgive the narrative diversion the film takes.

However, despite the frustrating experience Hereditary ultimately proves to be, the film demonstrates a great potential of talent. Aster proves he is a fine director and excels partly in creating an atmosphere of dread and knows how to develop characters. The film is expertly shot by Pawel Pogorzelski and there are many haunting moments in the cinematography. Colin Stetson’s score also works well in parts and successfully builds tension. I’d be very interested to see what they make next as technically, Hereditary is a marvel. But, I cannot quite forgive Hereditary for the disappointing second half which fails to pay off the set-up of the first half.

⭐⭐⭐ (Good)