Culver City Observer -

MOVIE REVIEW SPECIAL: A bloody battle at the box office this weekend with

THE GREEN INFERNO ● SICARIO

 

September 24, 2015



Some terrific movies to bite into this weekend at the box office. Bloody, violent, pushing the envelope in every direction, directors Eli Roth and Denis Villeneuve fascinate with strong story, spectacular imagery and in the case of Villeneuve’s SICARIO, Oscar-worthy performances starting with Emily Blunt.

THE GREEN INFERNO

Eli Roth returns to the director’s chair for the first time since “Hostel” and it’s not a moment too soon. As producer of the acclaimed “Aftershock”, Roth shifted focus and production to the lush regions of Chile and the Amazon. The result in the Nicolas Lopez helmed film proved to be not only visually saturated and sensational, but had a vibe that was fresh, energized and exciting. Roth now returns to Chile and Peru with THE GREEN INFERNO capturing that vibrancy and energy, along with some of the most beauteous images and use of color saturation on screen today, for what can only be described as the tastiest of cinematic treats. As Roth himself joked at the recent press day, “THE GREEN INFERNO is my mic drop.”

As are most college freshman, Justine is easily impressed by the collegiate atmosphere, the potential for activism and attention, and the hot guys. Spying the handsome Alejandro from afar at a protest rally, she wants to meet him and soon finds her way into his group of activists thanks to a kind invite from the soft spoken and naive Jonah. It doesn’t take long before Justine is swept up in Alejandro’s plans to stop the deforestation of the rain forest and heads off for a weekend excursion to a remote area of Peru with a group of other similar dewy-eyed hopefuls.

But as we know, the best laid plans often go awry and this protest is no difference. After being attacked at gunpoint by the military assigned to protect the corporate employees developing the region, their only salvation are their cell phones and the wonder that is the internet and Twitter. Saved from certain death, the group is herded together and forced to leave the region. And as we come to learn, there’s more to Alejandro and his scheme than meets the eye.

Needless to say, things don’t go as planned on their flight to freedom and back to the States when the small plane crashes in the rain forest and the survivors are taken captive by a tribe cannibals. As comes as no surprise, when you put cannibals and meaty foreigners together, there is plenty of food for comedic and horrific fodder, which is exactly what unfolds in extremely graphic and delicious fashion. So, who survives and who becomes dinner and dessert?

Calling on some of his best actors we last saw in “Aftershock” and adding a few other faces both new and old, the cast on the whole, is well rounded, multi-cultural and resonant, starting with Ariel Levy who gets to be a douche as Alejandro. He is charismatic commanding which seals the deal when it comes to enlisting the newbies into Alejandro’s cause. Watching Lorenza Izzo is a joy as you see her growth as an actress just from “Aftershock” to THE GREEN INFERNO. (I can’t wait to see what she does in “Knock Knock” which releases on the heels of THE GREEN INFERNO.) Nicolas Martinez delivered perhaps the most textured performance as Daniel while Aaron Burns proves to be an absolute sweetheart and teddy bear of a guy as Jonah. And then there’s “Spy Kids” Daryl Sabara, now all grown up and adding his own patented brand of goofiness to pot-loving Lars. (And here’s a hint of things to come: What happens when you shove a bag of pot into a body being cooked by cannibals? Think about it.)

But the real casting coups are the actual members of the Peruvian tribe found by Roth while location scouting. Although the children in the tribe do attend school up the river and are familiar with the modern world to a degree, the village itself have no electricity, no running water, no modern conveniences. Elders aren’t even aware of such things. Yet somehow Roth managed to convince them to participate in the film adding untold levels of authenticity and interest to the film. Particularly effective are the children, several of whom, according to Roth, even had some suggestions for filming certain scenes! They are beyond a delight to watch. However, the mesmerizing standout is professional actress Antonioeta Pari as the village elder. (Yes, a female village elder ruler!)

Written and directed by Eli Roth and co-written by Guillermo Amoedo and an uncredited Nicolas Lopez, the story structure is well done and fully encompassing with commentary on various social and geo-political issues. Having said that, they are all thinly veiled and I for one saw the twists and turns coming from a mile away. For Roth, however, one of the primary themes of THE GREEN INFERNO is social media. “[Y]ou see the kids in THE GREEN INFERNO and it’s not that they care about saving the rainforest, they care about being recognized for caring. It’s not when they chain themselves to the trees and do the protest. It’s when they stop the protest and they’re crying, they’re upset, so they’re going “What the hell did we get into?” but when CNN retweeted them then they’re happy, then that’s the party.” Roth puts the mirror up to each of us and society as a whole. Thoughtful is Roth’s incorporation of the tribal lifestyle into the story. He never vilifies or condemns their way of life. If anything, the protestors are the intruders disrupting a culture. Speaks loudly as to many of the event occurring around the world today.

Visually stunning and of course, Roth makes the most of his saturated red and green and yellow palette, both from a visual and metaphoric aspect. Cinematographer Antonio Quercia dazzles yet again. Making a conscious decision for the use of these three primary colors, key to Roth is that “no movies that look that way. I wanted to have a movie that can redefine what the look of a film like this is.” Every frame is rich, lush, striking, distinctive and adding a metaphoric dichotomy of beauty to the “horror” of acts unfolding. Notable is that Roth gives full credit to Quercia stating, “This photography is all him.”

Manuel Riveiro's classical scoring is beauteous and mirrors the lush richness of the Amazon jungle. Adding a wonderful layer to the overall construct of the film is the introduction of more tribal and startling individual tracks adds to the indelible score.

And stay through the credits. Some tongue-in-cheek fun just with the credits themselves.

THE GREEN INFERNO - too delicious for words. You’ve got to taste it for yourself.

SICARIO

Drug wars, outlaws, renegades, themes of the American Old West come together in the latest film from Denis Villeneuve - SICARIO. Steeped in violent and unsettling, and often unquestioning, times of cartels and drug running into the United States across the border, Villeneuve does what he does best. He keeps us on edge, panicked, yet unable to turn away from indelible images that sear into the eyeballs.

Told primarily through the eyes of FBI SWAT tactical hostage specialist Kate Macer, we first meet Macer and her partner Reggie as they raid a house presumably belonging to a high ranking cartel leader. What they find is a house with dead bloodied bodies insulating the walls behind fresh drywall. Unfortunately, things go awry during the raid and several agents are killed, pushing Kate into revenge mode, and eager to join a task force which will allegedly lead her to those responsible.

No sooner does Macer say “yes” to the new assignment, than she is faced with superiors and individuals whose identities and affiliations and intentions are unclear. Unlike her, Macer isn’t pushing for answers, but when her partner Reggie comes on board to protect her back, he demands answers. The “leader” is a guy named Matt who looks and acts more like an overgrown frat boy than head of a covert operation to infiltrate Mexican cartels. And his right-hand is Alejandro who appears more like an assassin than some of the cartel assassins.

The deeper in Kate and Reggie get, the murkier the waters become as there is no letter of the law, there is only the objective and to do whatever it takes to achieve it, regardless of what must be done, no matter how inhumane or brutal. Which forces us to ask - Who are the “SICARIO”? Is it the United States and this renegade operation under Matt? Or is it the cartels themselves? The rules of engagement are in flux and the players moving like players on a chess board. Moral ambiguities intensify to the point of being completely unidentifiable and no one can turn and run.

Performances are through the roof, particularly that of Emily Blunt and a very controlled and methodical Benicio Del Toro. Blunt goes full bore, unflinching, commanding the screen and going toe-to-toe with Del Toro and Brolin. As for Del Toro, he delivers perhaps the most intriguing performance of SICARIO with his introverted calm and quiet take on Alejandro. He makes you crave more of Alejandro, not only on screen but in backstory and knowing what makes him tick. Compelling. We know Josh Brolin can play a cocky smart ass so while he embodies the role of Matt, it's not a stretch. But Blunt kills it. (pardon the pun) A supporting performance that is stand out comes from Daniel Kaluuya. As Kate’s partner Reggie, he is the one guy who "mans up", who forces truth and calls "bullshit" on both Matt and Kate, the first for being an ass, and Kate for blindly following without following her ingrained protocol, without getting answers to questions. The integrity and ethic of the character and Kaluuya's performance calls for admiration and respect in staying true that design. Disappointing is Victor Garber who surprised me with the weakness and acquiescence of his character, FBI supervisor Dave Jennings.

Thanks to Villeneuve’s keen direction, action is rapier, not to mention well choreographed and executed while stunningly lensed by Roger Deakins. As for Deakins, he sets the visual and emotional tone with parched landscapes punctuated by the explosive horror of the color red with overtly lensed bodily mutilations and torture, but then breathtakingly balanced with widescreen beauty of a colorful starry night sky over the rising heat of a southwestern desert. It’s money shot after money shot with Deakins. Drone shots serve to steep us not only in sense of place, but immerse us in the physical journey in and out of Mexico and Juarez, all of which is well played and well placed which wraps into Joe Walker's editing. The film’s opening sequence of a strike team led by Blunt’s Kate exacting a raid on a perceived cartel location (which we soon see is insulated with tortured bloodied bodies) sets the tone. Edge of your seat tension with an explosion so dynamic, you will jump in your theatre seat. And the tracking sequences of the various steps of the mission at hand going into Juarez? Walker cuts it with the military precision of the operation.

Applause, applause for the FX work. Decapitation, mutilation and bloody bag-over-head-bodies in walls is beyond cool. Sad is that it's authentic and this does happen.

But let's look at the script and story. The fact that this is a first screenplay by Sheridan is shocking. The attention to detail, the minutiae, the research done to achieve this intricacy and depth is astounding. But beyond that, it's those very details that provide for layers of ambiguity and obfuscation that demonstrate the cyclic nature of the cartel problem and how politics comes into play - bend the rules, give a little, use whatever and whomever is at your disposal to gain an inch but hope for a mile. SICARIO gives us a tapestried portrait of the ethical conundrum facing law enforcement and politicians every day, not to mention the trickle down affect. Makes you think yourself about where would you draw the line in the sand. Morally complex and complicated by fascinating and thought provoking at every turn.

And then there’s Johann Johannsson’s scoring, starting with the repetitive and increasing percussive bass akin to Roman troops marching to battle in ancient times, thus establishing a delicious metaphoric sonic dichotomy tied to the original definition of the “Sicarii” in Roman times. Their purpose? To kill Romans, typically for political and military purposes, by means of concealed daggers hidden in their cloaks and togas. For those who have that historical context, the scoring just deepens the experience of the film. Whose marching into battle? The modern day definition of “Sicario” aka the hitmen, or the US led coalition trying to stop them? Brilliantly stunning.

Fascinating, non-stop, intelligent, visceral. SICARIO cuts into the very soul with rapier swiftness and intensity.

 

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