Tag Archives: Benicio Del Toro

Quick ‘n’ Dirty: March at the pictures

I didn’t go a lot to the cinema in March but I made up for it watching more European films (from Belgium, Spain and Denmark, to be precise). So here are my short and sweet reviews. Dig in!

Belgica: the story of Cafe Belgica and Jo and Frank, two brothers who own it. We see the evolution from hole-in-the-wall bar just for the locals with some live music into concert venue with regular gigs and selected clientele. At the beginning working at Belgica seems like the best thing in the world (sex, drugs and rock and roll) but, as time goes by, we see that it comes with a lot of baggage and pain, paralleling a heavy night of partying and drinking (more Bukowski’s style). What grabs more the attention is the music, it cleverly evolves in style with the changes of the bar and the strifes and troubles between the brothers. The cinematography is also to the point: the film begins with a red, warm hue suggesting intimacy and fun and, as the bar expands beyond control, the color schemes shift toward a harsh and cold blue. The performances of Stef Aerts and Tom Vermier as Jo and Frank are convincing and compelling. One minor quibble could be that some interesting secondary characters are not given much depth, but it’s just nit-picking. Intriguing —7.5/10

Belgica

 

Zootopia: the latest Disney animated film is set in an anthropomorphic city where mammals, predators and not, co-exist peacefully… more or less. Comedy, adventure and crime drama are well mixed together in a story that has never a dull moment. There are endearing characters like our heroine Judy Hopps, who is the first bunny to join the police of Zootopia, and cheeky ones like Nick Wilde, a fox and a hustler. There’s humour for kids and grow-ups alike (the sloths at the DMV are priceless) and a nice message about tolerance and inclusion that works well without being too corny or cheesy. The voice actors are perfect for their characters and the animation is top-notch. Maybe it’s not my favorite among Disney animated films but it is entertaining. Fun —7/10

zootopia

 

Land of Mine: the life of German prisoners in Denmark in 1945, right after the end of War World II. The Danish government decided to use thousands of German prisoners of war to remove the mines on the western coast of Denmark (put there by the Nazi during the occupation). The film tells the story of a small group of such prisoners, mostly still boys, and Sgt. Carl Rasmussen (Roland Moeller), the Danish soldier in charge of them and their mission. While beautifully shot the film falls short of the mark: the story of each character feels flat, without any reasonable development or believable motives. Sgt. Rasmussen suddenly change from Nazi-hater and treating the boys worse than animals, to father-figure, especially with Sebastian (Louis Hofmann), the unofficial leader of the group. The most important issue of the Geneva Convention about prisoners of war and not behaving like the Nazis did is completely glossed over, which makes for an easy way out for the director and writer Martin Zandvliet. Stray observations: no way it’s always sunny in Denmark, even in summer; if it’s windy it’s nigh impossible to keep the sand out of your eyes; the boys have always perfectly trim hair even after months of work… doubt that a barber showed up there every few weeks! Disappointing–5/10

land-of-mine

 

A Perfect Day: another movie about the aftermath of a war, this time is the Balkans in 1990s. What is most compelling is that the main point of view is neutral, the viewer is shown the ugliness of war in an objective way without judgement or taking sides. The plot is about an international group of aid workers who are supposed to clean up wells to provide the local population with potable water. Drama and comedy are dosed well, combining interesting and insightful situations that stem from language and cultural barriers, moronic bureaucracy and personal relationships. Black humour at the expense of military authority and the helplessness of the UN is reminiscent of M*A*S*H. Benico Del Toro and Tim Robbins, as the two old-timers of the group, are spectacular and well worth watching. Alex Catalan’s superb cinematography of the arid mountain landscapes and war devastated backdrop further enhances this enjoyable dark comedy/ funny drama. Unusual and riveting —7.5/10

A-perfect-day

 

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Sicario

Director: Denis Villeneuve; Main Cast: Emily Blunt, Josh Brolin, Benicio Del Toro;

Sicario

Kate (Blunt) is a FBI agent used to kick down doors and catch bad guys for the good of all American people. She follows the rules but, on a rescue operation, she stumbles on something that it’s beyond understanding:  dozens of dead bodies ensconced inside the walls of a house. It belongs to a major player in the drug traffic between US and Mexico and it has the additional perk of backyard shed booby-trapped with explosive that kills two policemen. Spurred by righteous indignation, Kate joins an inter-agency task force led by Matt (Brolin), soi-disant consultant for the Department of Defense, who will show her how the war on drugs is really fought. Mat is helped by Alejandro (Del Toro), another “consultant” of the US government, who is enigmatic, apparently all-knowing and rather shady, also not American. The viewer goes along with Kate on this grim ride, discovering facts and getting information as she does, slowly realising that she stepped into a very dangerous world where police work is substituted by covert military operations and rules and boundaries are very different from what she knows and believes in. Villeneuve seems to have a knack for making films that keep you engaged and uncomfortable at the same time. The foreboding mood of the story, the constant feeling that something is not right is difficult to shake off even for the jaded, cynical viewer, all thanks to Villeneuve’s ability in combining excellent performances with a good script and expert cinematography. Brolin and Blunt sell very well their respective characters but Del Toro is the one that truly shines! I did miss him in a role he could sink his teeth in and give us something remarkable. The other interesting aspect of this film is the fact that doesn’t really give an answer to the questions it raises on the “war” on drugs, it just depicts the situation in all its stark, disheartening reality, reminding me of a very illuminating exchange in an episode of The Wire:

Carver: You can’t even call this shit a war.

Hauk: Why not?

Carver: Wars end.

Gripping —7.5/10

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Inherent Vice

Director: Paul Thomas Anderson; Main Cast: Joaquin Phoenix, Josh Brolin, Owen WilsonKatherine WaterstonBenicio Del ToroReese Witherspoon;

Joaquin Phoenix in Inherent Vice

The lastest film by Paul T. Anderson is somehow a crossover between The Big Lebowski and Chinatown.  This slightly surreal and meandering story starts like a classic noir: an ex-flame comes back into Doc Sportello’s (Phoenix) life asking for help. Our hero is a private detective with glorious sideburns and a penchant for smoking pot. His ex, Shasta (Waterston), once a flower child with the same proclivities, has since moved on to greener pasture: her current lover is a real estate magnate.  After her cryptic visit, Shasta disappears and Doc begins a strange journey following weird clues, stumbling on the kidnapping of said magnate, searching for a phantom ship and dealing with all sorts of crazies. He’s helped by faithful friend and lawyer Sauncho (Del Toro), deputy district attorney and occasional lover Penny (Whiterspoon) and he ends up making common cause with Dirty-Harry like detective Bigfoot Bjornsen (Brolin). Set in 1970, this strange and rather convoluted tale, based on the eponymous book by Thomas Pynchon, might be slow-burning and very unlike Anderson’s previous film (The Master) but it’s captivating to follow. Doc is an oddball character and, most of the time, he’s stoned but, improbable as it may seem, he’s also pretty good at his job. In addition there’s Bigfoot, he starts out as a “benevolent nemesis” or “evil guardian angel” to Doc, but he reaches an understanding with him after their investigations  cross path. In a way, Bigfoot has similar traits to Doc: loner, determined and capable (with a visceral hate for hippies but that’s just a colorful side of his persona). This film with its eerie atmosphere and intricate plot turns out to be more  a character study on acid and it really works due to the superb performances of Phoenix and Brolin. Anderson has managed again the difficult task of keeping the viewer engaged with a star-studded, 2.5 hour-long movie based on a pretty wacky premise: chapeau! The cast in general is rather spectacular: curious, unexpected cameos and intriguing portrayals, it is clear that there’s a sure hand at the helm. The soundtrack and the photography complement the story and contribute greatly to the bizarre feeling that pervades the film throughout. Anderson’s style might not be everyone’s cup of tea and this film is even stranger than his usual fare so consider yourself warned. Mesmerizing –9/10

 

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