Happy New Year, movie fans. We’re jumping back into Blu-ray reviews this week with a look at Sicario, Scouts Guide to the Zombie Apocalypse, End of the Tour, The Walk, and True Detective: The Complete Second Season.
Starring: Emily Blunt, Benicio del Toro, Josh Brolin, Victor Garber
Director: Denis Villeneuve
Canada’s own Denis Villeneuve directs this riveting, dark, and bloody thriller about the violent Mexican drug cartels and their aggressive movements within the United States as a team of CIA agents, and one FBI agent, try to bring down a particularly brutal cartel leader.
Emily Blunt stars as a Kate, the FBI agent who gets dragged into the world of the cartels when a local case she’s working on turns out to be connected to a big CIA case. She’s recruited by Matt Graver, played by Josh Brolin, who keeps Kate on standby while he refuses to really explain the whole story. The even bigger question mark, however, is the role of Alejandro Gillick, played by Benicio del Toro, and exactly who he works for, or what his past means to the case.
Villeneuve directs the film as a tight, twisting labyrinth of hints and clues that never becomes truly clear until near the end, and the eerie score by Jóhann Jóhannsson contributes to a general sense of unease and burning tension. Even when you’re not exactly sure what may be around the corner, Jóhannsson’s score keeps you on the edge of your seat, with a mood that is cloying one moment, and haunting the next.
Then there’s the cinematography by the legendary Roger Deakins. Deakins is one of the best cinematographers working today, and he uses the camera to find beauty in the impossible, but also to stalk Kate throughout the film in a way that is subversive and seems to almost hint at the story’s finale.
On top of all the art and technical skill, Blunt, Brolin, and especially del Toro bring the script to life in all its tense glory. Blunt, in one of her best performances of her career, roots the film in a place that is both vulnerable and dangerous, like a cornered animal who doesn’t know which way to turn; or whether to fight or run. There is no doubt what she’s capable of, but Kate is also always close to crumbling from the sheer dank rot of the darkness that she’s fighting.
This was not only one of my favorite films of last year’s Toronto International Film Festival, but also one of the best films of 2015. The Blu-ray has a small number of features, but they’re a bit slim, but it’s still work checking out.
Scouts Guide to the Zombie Apocalypse
Starring: Tye Sheridan, Logan Miller, Joey Morgan, Sarah Dumont, David Koechner
Director: Christopher B. Landon
Scouts Guide to the Zombie Apocalypse does just about exactly what you might hope for, with a little bit more. If you expected gross-out humour, teenage antics, and a little gore, it’s all there, but director Christopher B. Landon takes it a bit further. The film is funny, modestly smart, and packed with above-average zombies that are sometimes–get this–pretty scary. It’s rare to see a film like this that can maintain decent comic chops and a few scares, but much to his credit, Landon succeeds at delivering both.
The film follows three bumbling teenagers who, for some unknown reason, are still members of the local Scouts troop. They don’t seem to care how dorky it seems, and they’re sneered upon and dismissed until a sudden zombie outbreak pushes them into fight-mode. But, when they have to fight, they do and even come to rescue of a group of much cooler students in town.
Tye Sheridan, Logan Miller, and Joey Morgan star as the three friends, with Sarah Dumont co-starring as the bad ass high school dropout who saves their necks. David Koechner, who is not around quite long enough, also co-stars as the very funny Scout Leader Rogers.
If you’re a fan of quirky comedies, or horror-comedies, you’ve probably already seen Scouts Guide to the Zombie Apocalypse, but if not, it’s worth a watch. I’m even saving a spot for it on my shelf of Halloween films.
If you’re on the fence about seeing it, I’m recommending it for the laugh-out-loud scenes, and the fact that the trio of co-stars are great together. Dumont is equally awesome, and provides almost all of the film’s attitude. The special effects, splatter, gore, and makeup are also pretty fantastic.
End of the Tour
Starring: Jason Segel, Jesse Eisenberg
Director: James Ponsoldt
Based on writer David Lipsky’s memoir, Although of Course You End Up Becoming Yourself, from when he met and spent a few days with writer David Foster Wallace, End of the Tour is a quietly soulful film that drags you in to the meeting of two minds, and their strange relationship.
Set in the nineties, Jason Segel plays David Foster Wallace, with Jesse Eisenberg as David Lipsky. At the time, Lipsky is a middling writer who discovers Wallace’s work and decides that he needs to go interview the author and follow him around on a short book tour. As the two writers travel together, Wallace and Lipsky find symbiosis together, with Lipsky agreeing to Wallace’s minor demands about the story, while easing into a camaraderie of sorts.
How the two writers see themselves, and each other, is the core of the film, and it creates a constant tug and play between the two as they unravel personal idiosyncrasies, and allow themselves to open up. But, at the same time, the two are adversaries on some levels.
This a beautifully heady film that is both immersive and personal, and Segel is particularly perfect as Wallace, bringing out charm and wit, but also a sense of old self-loathing, depression, and perhaps even enlightenment. He’s very zen at times, but clouded by past tragedies that he can’t let go.
End of the Tour is highly recommended, and yet another of 2015’s best films.
Starring: Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Ben Kingsley, Charlotte Le Bon, James Badge Dale
Director: Robert Zemeckis
Joseph Gordon-Levitt stars as real-life high-wire artist Philippe Petit, who decides that he needs to make it his mission to walk a tight-rope between New York City’s Twin Towers. Gathering together accomplices, he sets a goal of illegally walking between the towers in 1974.
The Walk received solid reviews when it was in theatres with critic A.A. Dowd for AV Club noted in his review, “It’s when the walk portion of The Walk arrives that this unevenly scripted, fact-based thriller achieves its full potential.”
True Detective: The Complete Second Season
Starring: Colin Farrell, Rachel McAdams, Taylor Kitsch, Kelly Reilly, Vince Vaughn
In the second season of HBO’s True Detective, the murder of a corrupt city manager leads to an investigation that drags in a police officer, a detective, a police sergeant, and a criminal, with Colin Farrell as Detective Ray Velcoro, Rachel McAdams as Sergeant Ani Bezzerides, and Vince Vaughan as Frank Semyon.
While the first season of True Detective was a huge hit, the second season received fairly poor reviews overall, with Mary McNamara of the Los Angeles Times commenting that it, “appears to have abandoned abandon; it is careful and controlled in a way that seems highly self-conscious.”
Coming up on January 12:
Hotel Transylvania 2
Mr. Robot: The Complete First Season
This Changes Everything (January 15)