Film Review: Sicario

Tension is the byproduct of nearly  element in Sicario, which in execution could have been disastrous or gimmicky if not for Denis Villeneuve (EnemyPrisoners)’s masterful ability to yield it. It’s the type of tension that will drive you to the literal edge of your seat; it’s the type of tension that makes Sicario brilliantly live up to the thriller genre, and one of the best films of the year.

Told through the perspective of FBI agent Kate (Emily Blunt, The Edge of TomorrowInto the Woods),  Sicario (which means “hitman”)is about a secretive American operation to take down the leader of a Mexican cartel. Recruited by senior agent Matt (Josh Brolin, Avengers: Age of UltronNo Country for Old Men) and a man named Alejandro (Benicio del Toro, TrafficGuardians of the Galaxy), Kate is placed in the operation without much knowledge about the actual case. As she slowly unravels details, her sense of morality is challenged by the ambiguity of the situation and her coworkers.

A combination of Emily Blunt’s finesse with action scenes, physical toughness and vulnerability make Kate a strong female character to experience this very problematic world in throughout the film. It elevates the entire suspenseful journey screenwriter Tyler Sheridan (who you may recall as the morally confused Detective Hale on Sons of Anarchy) built when you have a focal point that acknowledges when the line between right and wrong is being crossed. By contrast, del Toro and Brolin carry out a slick sense of confidence and masculinity in their secretive ways; for the former, it is covert and understated, and for the latter, it is more traditional. While these three performances are equally essential and balanced, del Toro, both individually and in his chemistry with Blunt, is quietly pointed and unnerving.

While discussing this film in vague terms and overviews might seem fruitless, it is almost necessary in order to let the film speak for itself and to get the full effect of Villeneuve’s impeccable direction. With the assistance of frequent collaborator/cinematographer Roger Deakins, he crafts these visually dramatic scenes not by aimlessly throwing images for a cheap shock factor, but by using the dry American suburbs, deserts and the city of Juárez to drive that sense of an unknowing danger. Everything in this film is designed to make you feel an urgency creeping up on you, without any sense of what you actually want to rush towards. That tone is only furthered by a heightened and eerie score from Jóhann Jóhannsson (who won an Academy Award for his work on The Theory of Everything earlier this year), which will loudly follow you, along with everything else, when you leave the theatre.

That is why the tension is so critical to the actual film’s success; where many other films fall through upon the climax and conclusion, Sicario continues the momentum into the very last minute of the story. Its consistency doesn’t suffer by a lifeless objective of making the tension last for the sake of it; it feels purposeful to the very end.

I screened Sicario at this year’s Toronto International Film Festival. Sicario is currently out on limited release in North America before going wide on October 2nd. 

The Good, the Bad and the Ugly: Ranking the 18 Films I Saw at #TIFF15

It’s been a crazy near-two weeks at this year’s Toronto International Film Festival, but I managed to cram in eighteen films in between red carpet photo ops (Days 3, 5, 6 and 7), volunteer shifts and this wondrous thing called sleep. There are tons I missed out on (I’m still upset I couldn’t fit Brooklyn in) but I’m quite happy with my overall choices and grateful for the freebies that came my way from the incredibly generous and kind people I met.

I’ll be posting full reviews in the coming days and weeks of each of these films, but until then, here is my ranking of the eighteen films that I watched at this year’s festival:

18. Mississippi Grind

Strong performances from Ryan Reynolds and Ben Mendelsohn can’t save this film about two quasi-drunk gambling buddies who go on a road trip where eventually, nothing else happens.

17. I Saw the Light

A biopic on famed country singer Hank Williams paves the way for pure dynamite from leads Tom Hiddleston and Elizabeth Olsen that never quite explodes due to the overly linear, repetitive and exhausted plot.

16.  The Man Who Knew Infinity

An interesting tale in the realm of The Theory of Everything and The Imitation Game where the central plot and friendship, hinged on a developed Dev Patel and Jeremony Irons, overshadows any potential for genius, historically and creatively.

15. The Final Girls

A camp-y (pun intended) horror-comedy film that, if taken lightly, is pretty great; if taken seriously, will probably be amidst your worst nightmares of the genre.

14. Freeheld

The true story at the core of this film is a powerful reminder of the struggles and sacrifices in the LGBTQ community’s fight for equality. Ellen Page and Michael Shannon are the standouts in an otherwise mediocre-made film.

13. Colonia

The intriguing part of this story is the actual historical existence of Colonia Dignidad, an isolated community run on religious extremities and the host for torturing people in Chile. For those looking for Emma Watson’s next great role, you may want to look elsewhere. Still, the story is enough to keep your interest, especially in the climatic ending.

12. Anomalisa

via nerdist.com

An incredibly detailed and beautifully made stop-motion film directed by Charlie Kaufman (Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind). I was a little lost in the last act, but I thoroughly enjoyed the first two-thirds of the film.

11. Mr.Right

via Indiewire

A really ridiculous plot births some occasionally overdone comedic performances from Anna Kendrick and Sam Rockwell, but all-in-all some great fun.

10. Truth

Cate Blanchett once again proves her chameleon ways in her incredible performance as former 60 Minutes producer Mary Mapes. A true story that explores the politics of reporting occasionally feels sensationalized but still, enjoyable.

9. Demolition

Everything is a metaphor in Jean-Marc Vallée’s follow-up to Wild, and while there are only so many times you can take the imagery, Jake Gyllenhaal makes it all worthwhile.

8. Dheepan

A beautifully made-film that depicts the immigrant experience for a Sri Lankan family who escapes the civil war in their home country and settles in France. My points of contention with this film lie in the specific context that is used to tell this story, but I enjoyed the filmmaking and acting.

7.  Trumbo

Bryan Cranston is the snappy, witty and at-times frustrating Dalton Trumbo, a Hollywood screenplay writer who is imprisoned and later placed on the Hollywood blacklist due to his belief in communism. An interesting look at the impact of Cold War politics on Hollywood, Trumbo is funny and entertaining with some great feature work from Cranston.

6.  The Danish Girl

Academy-award winning director Tom Hooper (The King’s Speech) returns with an impeccably produced The Danish Girl. Besides gorgeous cinematography and another strong effort made by Eddie Redmayne, star Alicia Vikander is the real treat in this film.

5. Room

Room is full of Canadian connections; the story comes from the book by London, ON-native Emma Donoghue, it was filmed in Toronto, and most importantly, eight year-old star Jacob Tremblay who is an absolute gem in the heartbreaking story, is from Vancouver. The chemistry between him and star Brie Larson guides this film to your gut. Winner of the Grolsch People’s Choice Award at TIFF. Bring the tissues.

4. The Lobster

A dystopian film ridiculous in all the right ways, The Lobster is exactly the type of off-beat comedy that you would expect it to be and is so successfully hilarious.

3. Angry Indian Goddesses 

I’ve been waiting nearly my whole life for a film that tackles Indian women not in terms of stereotypes or Bollywood portrayals,  but in their authentic, diverse, colourful and wild ways. Angry Indian Goddesses is hilarious, charming, feminist, occasionally disjointed but a wonderful tale of what it means to be a woman. Runner-up to the People’s Choice Awards

2. Sicario

The phrase “edge of your seat” has never been more applicable to me than while watching Emily Blunt get sent into a deep, covert operation dealing with drug cartels. The combination of Blunt and Benicio Del Toro’s impeccable performances, Jóhann Jóhannsson’s eerie score and Montreal-native Denis Villeneuve’s masterful directing make Sicario one of the best cinematic adventures of the year.

1. Spotlight

The understated performances of an all-star cast (Michael Keaton, Mark Ruffalo, Rachel McAdams, John Slattery, Stanley Tucci and Liev Schreiber) guide the shocking story uncovering a mass scandal of child sexual abuse amongst Catholic priests in Boston. The integrity in the storytelling is a real tribute to the value of investigative journalism. Keep an eye out for this to sweep this year’s award season. 

The What: Days 6 & 7 at TIFF15

It’s always a little sad when you jump over to the second half of TIFF, because suddenly the end feels so near. With only four days to go, many people are wrapping up their time at the festival, and I hate to think of how quiet it will be in just four days (but this is Toronto, so there will surely be something to fill that space.)

Until then, I’m continuing with my festival adventures: my film count is now up to ten (with six more to go), I finally hit my quota of one celebrity selfie (Sarah Silverman!) and today I wrap up my volunteer commitments (sad!). I’m really excited to share some post-TIFF reviews starting next week but until then, here are a few more red carpet photos I’ve been grabbing in between screenings this week.

The What: TIFF15 (Day 5)

One thing that I’ve learned in my couple of years at TIFF is to prepare yourself for the unexpected. Although I carefully and meticulously planned out my schedule, I’ve found myself constantly revisiting it to change according to emerging reviews and celebrity spotting opportunities. It’s pretty exhausting at times (and I’m already sick), but sometimes going with the flow yields some pretty fun results.

The last few days have mostly been filled with volunteer shifts and rescheduling, but there have been a few surprises along the way. For one, I ended up rushing Freeheld this past Sunday and received a ticket for free; stumbled upon Tom Hiddleston’s after-party for High-Rise (with a special cameo from Luke Evans); found myself trailing premieres on King West and casually strolling in a hallway past Geoffrey Rush. While I’m still trying to recover from a very sweet encounter with Childish Gambino, I thought I’d serve up a few snaps from the Spotlight and The Dressmaker premieres that I visited yesterday on Day 5 at TIFF.

PS – head over to my Instagram for more moments!

The What: Photos from TIFF15 (Day 3)

In case you were unaware, this year’s Toronto International Film Festival (the 40th anniversary!) is officially on a roll. The celebrities are coming in, the fangirl tears are streaming, the Twitterverse is abuzz with reviews and I’m in the middle of it all volunteering, screening, rushing, quasi-stalking and when I have some spare time, sleeping (but like, what is spare time during the festival?)

I’ve seen a total of four movies so far: The Lobster, Dheepan, I Saw the Light and The Danish Girl and while I’m not quite ready to share my reviews of those films yet, I’m going to share some of my TIFF photos when possible. In between screenings of I Saw the Light and The Danish Girl on Day 3 at TIFF, I also managed to sneak a few peeks at celebs on the red carpet and at Q&As, including Eddie Redmayne, Drew Barrymore, Toni Colette, Tom Hardy, Susan Sarandon, Elle Fanning, Naomi Watts, Alicia Vikander, Amber Heard, Tom Hiddleston, Elizabeth Olsen and yes, a quick but definite sighting of Johnny Depp who is in town for Black Mass.

I’ll share more when I can, but in the meanwhile, here are a few moments from Day 3 at TIFF.