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Archive for July, 2018

Sicario-Day-of-the-Soldado-FI-2-minAs I post less and less articles, I don’t walk out of a film thinking I must write about that.  That is also the case with Sicario 2: Soldado (UK title, it seems to have different titles in different territories), however, I do feel compelled to write, not about the film, but peoples reaction to it.  It has received mixed to positive reviews, the IMDB rating is similar to the first film but the Metascore is much lower.  There appears to be two main criticisms, 1: A lack of Emily Blunt. 2: It is right wing, and even pro Trump.  There is a third, the fact that Denis Villeneuve didn’t direct, that is a whole different conversation, who made it is less important than how well they made it, I am therefore parking that one. Taylor Sheridan

To give some context, I love Sicario it is a straight choice between this and Mad Max: Fury Road as my favourite film of 2015.  Both are amongst my favourite of the decade so far.  Written by (début) screenwriter Taylor Sheridan and directed by upcoming Denis Villeneuve (Prisoners was the only one of his films I had seen at the time) it came almost out of nowhere.  When a sequel was announced I was a little unsure how I felt about it.  Sheridan was returning as writer, now with two great screenplays behind him, Hell or High Water (2016), and Wind River (2017) which he also directed.   Sadly Denis Villeneuve did not return as director, that job went to largely unknown Italian Stefano Sollima.  Although this article is about the reaction to the film more than the film itself, I do need to express my thoughts.  I really liked the film.  It is a solid and tense thriller with compelling, if not likeable characters.  I am led to believe that Taylor Sheridan always intended Sicario to be the start of a trilogy, as such, and given the strength of his other films, he was the most important returning element of a sequel, he has not disappointed.  Denis Villeneuve is missed, the film lacks of the style and vigour of the original.  The set pieces are larger in scale than those of the first film but don’t carry the same weight.  It is a slightly flabbier, less taught story, is this less assured direction, or the result of the expanding story? I’m not sure.  Any film is going to miss a director of photography like Roger Deakins, veteran Dariusz Wolski proves to be a good substitute, the film looks great.  The night-time exteriors are particularly well lit.   Benicio Del Toro

In the first film, Emily Blunt’s character was both our way into the story, and the stories conscience, she was the strongest thing about a flawless film.  This film need neither of those things, we don’t need a way in as having seen the first film we are already in, and the films lack of conscience is half the point, there are bad people on both sides, doing bad things, that they can all justify in their own minds.  Everyone is the hero in their own story, whether a real life or a fictional character, does anyone think they are the villain?  Yes I would have liked to see Blunt’s character again, but that would be a different film, she would not have had a place in this story, and this is the story the filmmakers have chosen to make.Soldado

So is the film right wing, and pro Trump!  All art is open to interpretation, and saw this very differently.  The film may glorify some of the actions, but it does not try to justify them. Furthermore characters do question their part in the situation giving the faintest glimmer of conscience .  To explain what I mean we have to delve into the plot so this will contain SPOILERS:  Drug cartels transport people illegally across the border.  Amongst the many innocents looking for a better life, there are a few terrorists.  A bomb is detonated in a shopping centre. This gives US politicians and what we assume to be the CIA a mandate to start a war between the cartels.  To achieve this Brolin and Del Toro’s characters start playing the two sides against each other, including assassinations and the kidnapping of a child.  When things go wrong.  The powers that be, pull the plug on the operation ordering the elimination of their own ally and an innocent child.  It further transpires that two of the three terrorists that prompted their actions were American citizens not smuggled through Mexico.  For the right wing, and pro Trump argument to work, the American’s must remain the heroes of the story.  They are pretty far from this: We already know that they are prepared to break the law (their own law, intentional law, and the law of a foreign sovereign state)  because they believe the end justifies the means.  They see life, including that of innocents as expendable (collateral damage).  They are happy to start a course of action before they know the facts.  They have no loyalty to their own allies.  To try and give some balance, I don’t know if terrorists are smuggled to the USA via Mexico.  The film could plant a seed that this is happening giving fuel to the pro Trump, pro wall brigade.  To put it simply I don’t see the story as a rallying cry for right wing xenophobia, it is more a condemnation of Americas foreign policy under Trump. Sicario 2 Soldado

As mentioned above Taylor Sheridan always intended Sicario as a trilogy, I for one am keen to see part three.  Given the great job he did on Wind River, I would like to see Sheridan in the director’s chair too.  As much as I loved Emily Blunt’s performance in the first film, she probably doesn’t have a place in the final film, just like she didn’t in this second film.  This doesn’t have to mean the end of her character, there is plenty of space for a side project away from Matt Graver and Alejandro.  The end of part two gives us an indication of where it may go, I suspect there is a little more to it than that, as with the first two films it will be a reflection on the time it is made. 

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Earlier in the year saw the latest round of the battle between opposing views on film distribution and exhibition.  The battleground, the Caane film festival.  In 2017 Netflix had two films in competition: Okja and The Meyerowitz Stories.  This years the festival’s artistic director Thierry Fremaux, imposed a rule that all films shown at the festival must receive a French theatrical release.  This wouldn’t be a issue in most countries including the UK and USA, but France have more ridged rules on distribution.  Once a film is shown in a French cinema/theatre, it cannot be sold on DVD, or pay-per-view for four months, furthermore, it cannot be streamed on a subscription service like Netflix, or Amazon Prime for three years.netfix cover

So why is this a big deal?  Simply, Netflix is morphing into one of the biggest film production company in the world.  With an annual budget for new content reported to be around $8Billion, they are planning to make around 80 films this year.  Unlike Amazon Prime who are giving their higher profile movies cinema releases, Netflix distributes its content exclusively on its own platform.  This is beginning to look like the vertical integration of the big studios during the golden age of cinema.  That particular era ended in 1948 when United States v. Paramount Pictures, Inc. ruled that the system was in violation of US antitrust laws.

I am a firm believer that the cinema is the best place to watch a film, and do so frequently.   Over that last ten years, I have averaged about 2.5 trips to the cinema every week. I do however, also subscribe to both the streaming services I have mentioned here.    So where does that leave us?  Should there be restrictions on where, when and how films are distributed? Film critic Mark Kermode has spoken frequently and vocally on how films should be available simultaneously on multiple platforms.  Will imposing more restrictions help of hinder the situation?  Bizarrely, I think the best option may be one that would probably fall foul of competition laws.  If Netflix were to do a deal with a major cinema chain to give there bigger releases a cinema release, this would provide the best of both worlds.  They could then give free or heavily discounted tickets to their subscribers (the cinema will make their money selling food and drink).

I don’t think there are any simple answers to the issue.  I live in a major city with at least one cinema from all the major chains and several independents.  I also have superfast broadband, I am therefore well covered on all fronts.  But what of those who live in isolated places who don’t have access to a cinema? Or those that do have a cinema but no access to streaming?  Doesn’t the industry owe these people a chance to see more movies?  Ultimately, I think we all accept the MGM motto “Ars gratia artis” is at best a thing of the past at worst a myth. MGM-LOGO

Whatever the future holds, it is clear we are in a period of transition in the film industry, but then it could be argued that that it is an industry that is always in transition. 

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A combination of a Holiday and The Football World cup has resulted in me only seeing three movies this month, they are:

Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom – Following the events of the previous film, but taking the narrative in a new direction.  The story starts and ends well but has noticeable lull in the middle.   Director J.A. Bayona, working with a blockbuster budget for the first time does a good job bringing so atmosphere and a few scares and a political subtext.  Enjoyable nonsense. Jurassic World Fallen Kingdom

Bobby Robson More Than a Manager – Portrait of the late Sir Bobby Robson, One of the best and most underrated managers in English and European football.  The film is very partisan, this doesn’t distract from the film that is both informative or enjoyable.  A must for football fans. Bobby Robson More Than a Manager

Animal World – A Chinese film based on a Japanese Manga about a game of Rock, Paper, Scissors on a cruise ship with Michael Douglas and a killer clown!  Sounds bonkers, it is. Of all the video games and board games made into terrible movies, who would have thought Rock, Paper, Scissors would be so compelling and so much fun.  It also how a bit of depth by way of social commentary. Animal World

Not much to chose from, my movie of the moth is a film I hadn’t heard of until a couple of hours before seeing it. Animal World

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